To Dhyan: Year 6

Dear Dhyan,

Each year I think the thoughts will flow easier, but I find myself this year less able to encapsulate what this year has been like. You seem to have changed immensely and yet it was hardly surprising I suppose in retrospect.  You started pre-school at the beginning of the year, did that for 3 months, then went to Poland with your grandfather, and was there 3 weeks with just your grandparents, before your mom and Allie joined you for another 3 weeks.  You a blissful summer under the sun, and then began school and I’ve never seen you shine so brightly.  I know being able to be around and play with other kids more consistently has been enjoyable for you.  I am sure there are going to be hiccups navigating the social waters, but I have no doubt you’ll find your way so long as you remain kind.

It’s been a very big year for you.  It’s weird to think how you can be afraid to go by yourself upstairs to your room, but you have no problem going across a big ocean far away from your parents.  The latter taking far more bravery than the former.  It’s interesting the things we are frightened of.  Most of it largely unreasonable.  I missed you terribly being without you for 6 weeks, but I also couldn’t be more proud.  I am glad you got to really experience your mom’s home country and got to speak the language in a place where everybody speaks it.  You made friends with Polish children, you ordered things in Polish.  It’s wonderful!

And now, in just one semester of kindergarten you’re reading and writing skills have improved dramatically.  I am greatly enjoying watching the world open up to you.  What used to be some random assort of symbols, you recognize now as letters and words, and it’s wonderful to see those eyes widen with recognition and excitement that you are reading.  We had our first parent/teacher interview and your teacher had nothing but wonderful things to say about you.  She did mention that you do get a little bit silly, especially when there is someone to goof around with. I was just happy that you’re the same kid at school that we see at home.

What was also nice this year is that I did get to spend much more time with you.  While you still prefer your mommy, I can tell that you look forward to our time together and I enjoy your company so much.  I love the questions you ask, and the way you look at the world.  You are such a kind and fair boy.  It is the one greatest wish for my children, and it feels like you are already there.  Now I just have to figure out how to keep you on that path.

Now here is my one problem with you.  Why can’t you just sit down and eat a meal?  I don’t understand why you are out of your seat more than in it while we’re eating.  I don’t know why you always have to go to the bathroom during meal.  I don’t understand how it can take an hour to eat.  Everything else Is easy with you until the parents vs. Dhyan meal times.  I sense this is distressing to both us.  Perhaps that’s why battles wear on because we don’t know how to communicate with each other properly.  That being said, you will find a whole exciting world awaits you after meal time when you don’t use all your free time eating.

But if that’s the worst of it, I think it would be manageable.  With all the growth you’ve had over the past year, I start to see you more clearly in your future and I worry about what security I can provide you in your life. My job has become less stable, this country grows ever more divided and corrupt, that the world seems more inclined to lean towards authoritarians and xenophobes, and the harm we are causing our planet continues as too much political capital in the countries that could do the most, pretends that it’s not even happening.  I feel like I should be preparing you for a harsh reality, but those joyful moment with you give me strength each day. And in the end maybe that is what’s most important.  Without enough joyful moments, maybe it’s not possible to know what is worth fighting for.  In any world where people are needed to make things better, they are going to be bright, creative, kind, and vigilant.  We need good people to look up to. I hope I can raise you to be someone who has qualities that makes people feel better when they are around you.

The quality that continues to emerge most strongly in you, is your creative ability.  Especially in terms of design.  Your mother has this quality in her abundance, but it was never my forte.  It makes me feel sometimes I don’t know how to guide you.  It makes me worry that there is some greatness I you that I don’t know how to make sure rises to the surface.  But I guess that’s why there are two of us raising you, and maybe what’s really the most important is just making sure you feel completely loved.  I hope that a large part of you becoming who you are meant to be is about giving you that loving environment that makes you feel free to be that person.  That being said, I love that you love math and that is one area that I am enjoying exploring with you, because I share the same love of numbers and patterns.  And I love watching Brain Games with you.  Understanding the brain is such a big part of understanding ourselves.  I hope you continue to have this interest, because learning about the brain has had a profound impact on my life.

I love you more each day Dhyan.  It’s hard to believe this is possible sometimes, but as your complexity grows so does my love for you.  And so, as in the past, the fear of losing you grows too.  I guess I’m glad these things happen gradually, because it means I only have to get a little bit stronger every day.  This fear is something I can only look at from a distance. It is too big to engage in it for any serious length of time.  It is so large that it actually becomes a helpful reminder that losing yourself in what might be ruins any chance you have of enjoying and making a difference in what is.  That’s one of the few truths I know that I want to make sure you understand as well.  A realization that has come far later in life than I wish it had.

Happy birthday my sweet young man.  I look forward to watching you grow another year, and I just want you to know that you teach me things too, and I also grow.  I also want you to know that every time you love someone you change too.  It doesn’t matter whether they are a child or an adult.  I am so excited to be on this journey of life with you.

Where is the Liberal Support for Feminism in Islam?

I listened to a podcast a couple weeks ago where Sam Harris was interviewing Yasmine Mohammed.  It was a wonderful interview and even emotional.  For those of you who don’t know Yasmine she is an ex-Muslim who immigrated to Canada as a child, and ended up being raised by a very strict Islamist (who incidentally had multiple wives) and was forced to marry a guy who turned out to be a Muslim extremist.  She experienced a lot of abuse from her biological father, adoptive father, and her husband.  Her husband was actually part of ISIS and now supposedly resides in a prison in Egypt although she has been unable to confirm it.  The long and the short of it is, that she has had the full experience of what many women go through in Islamic society as second class citizens.  I would argue that citizens are humans and I am not sure that many women qualify even as human in traditional Islamic communities.  What they go through is absolutely dehumanizing.

But I am not here to talk about the problems with Islam.  What I found really interesting about the interview was the discussion about how in the west, the left rarely criticizes Islam for how it treats women.  We can criticize Christianity’s patriarchal values, have TV shows like Handmaid’s Tale which show just how oppressive Christianity can be, but the rules are different for Islam and how they treat women.  Yasmine finds it despicable that they even try to use the hijab as some sort of symbol of female empowerment in Islam, when that is really not what it is at all.  She says that Muslim women are “othered” in western society, like they are not equally human as white women, that they don’t want the same freedoms that white women have.  And I have to say, that I agree.  I think any practices, whether they be in the context of a religion, culture, or society at large that demean and/or oppress women should be open to criticism.  And women in the west, who enjoy a great deal more freedom than many Muslim women, should be joining Yasmine’s fight again a very patriarchal religion.

However…

So I wanted to support Yasmine and followed her on Twitter where she is fairly active. In many ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense why feminism in the west would be on opposite sides of this battle.  And if I consider myself a feminist, then Yasmine is absolutely correct, she’s just human and humanist values should apply to her.  I see feminism as fitting into the larger umbrella of humanism.  But when I started making comments in support and in defense of her points I noticed something quite interesting.  When I would look at the profiles of many of the people who liked my comments, I was surprised to find that many of them were Trump supporters, conservative white males who consider themselves libertarians, and a lot of people who I would consider to be politically alt-right.  It made me feel uncomfortable.  It made me wonder, what type of person am I supporting here if all these people who I would disagree with on almost about everything else are seeming to be on the same side as me?  So while it doesn’t change my stance that we should be just as critical of patriarchal ideas embedded in any religion, I started to see what the left might be rejecting here.  If supporting an ex-Muslim fighting religious patriarchal values is putting you on the same side as conservative, alt-right racist types, what is the answer to effectively supporting people like Yasmine?

So then the question for me became, okay so what is going on?

  • Is it simply that these people aren’t as racist as they are Christian xenophobes who fear other religions, races, and cultures invading their space? Is it basically just the enemy of the enemy is our friend?
  • Did, as Sam Harris has argued, that the space the left has vacated has simply allowed the right to elevate people like Yasmin in status and use her to spread their more hateful message? We see this phenomena not only in the case of religion here.  But we see women who support men’s issues get support from misogynist members of MRA or incels. Even Sam Harris, who I would argue is at heart liberal, often gets his words used by alt-right people when they want to reinforce Muslim stereotypes.
  • Many white liberal women are of the liberal Christian kind.  They want religious Muslim women to be seen as strong as empowered because they then don’t have to acknowledge the oppressive practices in their own faith?  Would this mean that it’s Yasmine’s atheism that many liberal women are reacting to?
  • Do we have more in common with people who are alt-right than we think?

I don’t really think the last one is true, but I think it’s important to consider the question.  Where do we go from here?  Now I’m not sure whether Yasmine is politically conservative or not.  Certainly I think it’s possible to want equality for women while still supporting fiscally conservative issues, but I would say certainly Yasmine is socially liberal based on what she has said.  Perhaps if more people on the left spoke up in support of Yasmine, all those alt-right followers would flee from her side, not wanting to be allied with us because they would have the same uncomfortable feeling I had!

While I sympathize deeply with what Yasmine Mohammed went through, I do think it’s also a reality in the west that minority races and religion can experience a lot of prejudice and racism, and so in some ways I understand perhaps not wanting to critique a religion that is largely followed by darker skinned people so as to not feed stereotypes that can be used by people that would oppress them.  I also think that if we are concerned with things like freedom of speech, gender equality, LGBQT rights, we have to be constantly fighting against bad ideas, and Islam, just like Christianity has a bunch of bad ones.  Islam is a huge religion and I can only imagine that the amount of women and girls is in the 100s of millions who need liberal voices fighting for their rights in the same way we fight against Christian patriarchal values.  I believe it is possible to fight against both prejudice against Muslims, and also still criticize the oppressive practices that Islam advocates and are practiced daily around the world.

Update on a recent blog post of mine

Every once in awhile the best of us has to admit that we didn’t research something as well as we could.  Although at the time, I don’t know I could have figured all this out.  I recently wrote a blog post about the incident surrounding Carson King and the exposure by a reporter of racist tweets in his past, and I commented how this type of thing is far too common in journalism today where someone’s past is brought up, despite the fact that they are clearly not that person anymore.

While I don’t think my overall conclusion is wrong, the inspiration for me writing that post was a story more complex than I initially thought.  This link is an article written by the journalist who was apparently fired in response to the public outcry at making meat out of Carson King’s past tweets.  After reading it, I think he sounds like a decent person who had no ill intent.  According to the editor of the Des Moines daily register the background profile that reporter Aaron Calvin is standard practice.  As I read, what seems to be the original article here, it is a very positive article and the tweets are mentioned at the very end with commentary by the journalist about how much Carson had changed.

We can argue about whether bringing up at all has any value,  but we could also argue that knowing how ridiculous Twitter could be, that he was genuinely worried about the wrong person finding it out and spinning it without King’s input.  So maybe it was better getting ahead of it.  According to Calvin’s write up about the whole incident, Carson King himself had the same thought and did the press conference giving people the idea that Calvin was trying to sink him, himself.  King seemed to have no ill feelings towards the Des Moines Register or Calvin, and I think Calvin makes some salient points in his sum up of the incident.   Perhaps in the end, this incident ended up being chaotic and disastrous because of the worry, or perception of cancel culture.

Does Capitalism always Give us More from Less?

Recently I listened to a podcast interview with Andrew McAfee who has written a book called More from Less.  The message of this book is meant to be positive along the line of Steven Pinker’s more recent books.  Illustrating that things aren’t maybe as bad as they seem, or at the very least we have reason to hope.  While I am reticent to make critiques of a thesis without having actually read the book, what I want to say is more about the foundational premises he builds his book on, and I think the 90 minute interview gives me a good basis for discussion here.

For those of you who don’t want to listen, I will give a brief summary here.  I will say at the outset that he is very pro capitalism, but I’ll be honest, out of anybody in favor of capitalism that I’ve listened to, he makes the most compelling arguments.  I should also point out that he is not anti-regulation, nor is he libertarian and thinks that capitalism can solve every human concern.  Anyway, the basic thesis of his book is that we currently live in an age where human prosperity shows signs of decoupling from the nearly one to one correlation we had since the industrial revolution of natural resource use.  With quite a lot of data he shows since the 1970s we’ve been continue to grow economically, while using resources at a continually slower rate.  The reason he attributes to this transition is because of our improved technology along with the fundamental ways in which capitalism works.  I’ll go into details in a moment.  I want to preface the discussion also by saying that he is not anti-climate change or anti-EPA.  He admits the dark past of capitalism, but feels that the coupling with technological advances has helped capitalism be a more positive force.  Like many of us I guess, he sees the good parts, and doesn’t want to throw the baby out in the bathwater.  I always resonate with this mentality, and for those who know me, know I am not completely anti-capitalism.  I do also see some good parts, but there are also parts that are deeply troubling to me and so a mixed economy seems the most reasonable to me.

Image result for turing computerThe technological save for mankind her argues is the computer.  This is not a new idea, and in fact I wrote about this a little before on my blog when I talked about Douglas Adams’ ages of sand.  After the lens for the telescope and the microscope opened up the macro and micro universe, the silicon chip came along and revealed to us the process.  We could do enormous amounts of calculations so quickly that this allowed people to solve problems in a tiny fraction of the time it would have taken them before.   McAfee gives several examples of how computers helped businesses and corporations reduce waste.  Their motivation to reduce waste is of course motivated by profit, but as a result less resources were used.  One example was the aluminum can.  If you are my age or older you know how thick cans of soda used to be compared to now.  Cans today still function perfectly but use less material.  Being able to model pressurized liquids in cans and tweak thicknesses and model the impact of that thickness allowed for vast savings in resources used by beer and soda companies.  Since companies need profit for growth they have no incentive to be wasteful when it comes to materials.  Now I’m sure class action law suits also convinced companies to stop raping the Earth, but I take his point and I don’t deny that it’s true.

His pro-capitalism stance is largely based on the fact that so many private companies and innovative production methods and the advent of fossil fuels raised a large amount of people out of poverty.  Life expectancy when up dramatically as infant mortality dropped significantly due to indoor plumbing and parts could be made more quickly and in massively higher amounts to give a large population of people access.  Being able to unleash the energy stored in fossil fuels powered companies of all kinds to bring lifesaving and life altering technologies to more and more people.  Populations exploded as a result of the increase in prosperity.

Image result for world population by year

For McAfee the future, if we are going to have a better one, he argues that we must have more of the same.  We must have continue to have capitalism working to develop technologies that will use less and less resources for creating growth, and this can be guided by smart government policy.  He is in favor for instance of a revenue neutral carbon tax that gives money to people at the bottom end, and encourages corporations and businesses to work to cut fossil fuel usage.  What he doesn’t advocate is that we are all going to return to some idyllic pre-industrial state and he argues, I think quite convincingly that we weren’t this idyllic sustainable group of people prior to the industrial revolution, and that now with the world population as it is, we need energy and only the development of better energy sources is going to help us deal with something like pollution and climate change.

So fundamentally I think my disagreements come from the fact that first even if we are using less resources, those resources are still finite, and if we aren’t concerned about the continuing growth of people we will simply run out of important resources we need.  Is there always a technological solution out there waiting for us?  Maybe, but we don’t know that for sure.

The second thing I question is whether or not it is good that the population exploded as it did in the last 100 or so years.  Is this prosperity?  Is this a good way to measure prosperity?  The fact that we might have the ability to effectively support human beings, doesn’t mean that we necessarily should.  It seems to me that the technological advances of the industrial revolution were so powerful that human population grew unrestrained, requiring the continuing need to use and extract more resources.   Is it true that we might not have invented the computer if we grew human populations at a rate that lead to a more sustainable society?  Are these technological advances only an answer to some threshold in the amount of suffering on the planet?  Was the computer something that could not just as easily been invented with half the world population at the time or was there a drive to invent something that could solve innumerable problems that were occurring because the world population was as high as it was?  It’s not obvious to me that this is the case.  It’s not obvious to me that prosperity for a creature with such a high level of consciousness should simply be defined by our growth in population.  If we continue to grow in population this just seems to put us in an endless cycle of trying to have to develop new technologies to alleviate the suffering of the increased population.  And even if we are getting more out of less, eventually something will run out, and technology simply won’t save us.

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Finally, I am left with the old moral philosophy question:  Does the end justify the means?  Let’s say capitalism was best equipped to increase human prosperity and not destroy the Earth at the same time.  If we are using less and less resources because some CEO is trying to make more money does it matter that we are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons?  Capitalism is not a moral philosophy it is just an economic system.  And while I enjoy listening to this well-educated author, his optimism, and his well laid out arguments, he is in the minority it seems when it comes to those who celebrate capitalism.  For many the mindset of growth trumps other human concerns, even if that mindset sometimes producing good ends, it often leads to many downstream problems.  There has to be room for human rights, happiness, respect, empathy, etc.  If it is possible to practice a brand of ethical capitalism it must look different than what we have had in the past and even what we have now.  I see very few capitalists adopting McAfee’s views, and I find myself very concerned about a society that puts profit in front of all other values.  If capitalism does have any intrinsic value in it, then it needs a better marketer than Wall Street, and banks, and mega-rich billionaire CEOs.

McAfee does admit that income inequality is an important issue, although in the interview offered very little solutions to that.  I suspect he feels like there policy solutions that don’t involve a high redistribution of wealth, but he didn’t go into a lot of details.  There are a myriad of other issues he didn’t address in the interview such as education, and health care which I think don’t lend themselves well to the capitalist economic model yet are important in a society.

He did also address the problem of growing economies in other parts of the world.  He doesn’t worry as much that they will do things as “dirty” and irresponsible as we did, simply because new technologies are available to them at a cheaper price than what the U.S. had when our economy started growing rapidly.  It’s a fair point.  But even if we can use less of resource A to produce a 1 KW of energy, or 1 mile of fiber optic cable, with a lot more people wanting those resources it still seems like an issue.  And if we are expecting technology to get us out of our biggest problems while also devaluing education, as seems to be the case in this country, I don’t see things as getting better quickly enough before we hit the wall.

Overall it was a thought provoking interview.  I don’t know if I feel more optimistic, but I at least can acknowledge that the conversation about what we can do is broader than the conversation we are having now.  On the topic of climate change I feel this is largely because our conservative, pro-capitalist party can’t even admit that we have a problem and this leads to a very narrow range of solutions.

Has Justice Been Served?

For those of you that have been following the story, Amber Guyger was just found guilty of murder in her trial.  You can read about the incident here.  I’ve been trying to find out some hidden facts about this case, but unable to find anything that convinces me that the jury came to the wrong conclusion.  I guess witnesses get to speak today before the actual sentencing, but Ms. Guyger faces up to life in prison for the killing of Botham Jean.

If you didn’t read the article, the basics of the incident is that Ms. Guyger, for whatever reason went into what she thought was her apartment, but it belonged to Mr. Jean.  She thought there was an intruder, and feared for her life and ended up shooting Mr. Jean dead.  The prosecution rightly proved that Ms. Guyger had other choices available to her that she could have taken, including backing out and taking cover while she called for back up.  The prosecution also showed that she didn’t do enough in medical aid after the incident in trying to save the victim’s life.  She clearly wasn’t thinking very clearly when she walked into the wrong apartment or in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  All this I grant and she made a horrible mistake that cost an innocent person their life.

But is it murder?  There was no motive, and it’s clear that Ms. Guyger is feeling great remorse for what happened.  To the point where she wishes she had been the one killed and not the other way around.  I guess I’m just wondering how putting her away for life in prison is going to make any of this tragedy better?  From the evidence presented from the 911 call, she clearly believed that she was in her apartment, and while she didn’t act like a well-trained cop in the moment, as we’ve seen there are very few cops who might have been cool in that situation.  Ms. Guyger clearly feels a great deal of remorse and pain for the what she has done, is she a danger to society?  I don’t think so. Is she a racist?  Well there was evidence that she definitely saw black people differently.  If she didn’t have this implicit bias would things have gone differently?  Perhaps.  I don’t think she is the poster child for an exemplary police officer, but I also don’t see her as being so racist that she was simply looking for an opportunity to gun down a black person.  I don’t see how this terrible incident is made less terrible by putting her in jail for murder.  It seems clear that many people are only excited by the verdict because a cop is finally being sentenced to murder for killing an unarmed black person.  There have been many of those cases where I’ve been outraged at the police being acquitted by a grand jury.  I don’t think this is case to make up for all those other cases that should have been ruled differently?  I don’t think the law should work like that.  I feel like we aren’t setting a precedent for cops being charged with crimes for killing unarmed people, I feel like we are saying that the verdict for one person’s crime should make up for past injustices.

Ms. Guyger made some bad decisions, but I don’t feel she’s a murderer.  I hope that testimony today will convince the judge that she doesn’t deserve life in prison.  In the end and innocent man was killed, and that is the greater tragedy, I’m just not convinced that the verdict render changes anything other than adding more tragedy.  Maybe Ms. Guyger could do more good to make up for what she’s done instead of just sitting in a cell.

I am also willing to be talked out of this position with some good arguments.  Perhaps my thinking is narrow here.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Don’t Do Anything Nice if You’ve Done Something Bad

I read a story this morning that really made me shake my head about how misdirected we’ve become as a society.  I think it’s especially worrying, because we live in times where liberal thinking is necessary to push back against greed, against religion, against white nationalism, etc, and it is those people we need to get angry about the right things.  CNN reported that a young man who was raising money through beer sales for a local hospital had raised a million dollars, but than a Des Moines news paper dug up some 7 year old tweets that were racist (he was 16 at the time) and published them in an article they wrote about him.  The paper claimed that it was standard to do a social media check on people that they write stories about, and that they felt it was important for the sake of transparency to publish these 7 year old tweets so people knew who they were giving their money to.

I’ll tell you who they were giving money to.  A children’s hospital.  The guy was raising money for a FUCKING CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL!

What he wasn’t doing:

  • made any racist tweets since then
  • wasn’t raising money for a white’s only hospital
  • beating black people in the streets
  • remaining a 16 year old

Carson King, who was raising the money, apologized publicly and tried to make the point that he is not that person anymore and that he’s become kind and generous.  Which given what he is trying to do, seems fairly straightforward.  The apology of course cared little wait with Anhauser-Busch who have now distanced themselves from King.

There is good news here.  Although Anhauser-Busch rescinded their offer to give this guy a year’s supply of beer with his face on their can, they did agree to add to the donation to the hospital with what would have been that beer cost.   So the hospital will still get what they were promised.  More importantly the readers of the newspaper turned against them and complained about this ridiculous reporting.  They went further and decided to dig up old tweets on the reporter, Aaron King, who reported the story, forcing him to then apologize for his past tweets.

It seems to me that what’s really going on is that journalism is simply a competition to get clicks, and to do so they use racism as a tool to stir moral outrage among liberals.  And far too many liberals are falling for it hook, line, and sinker.  The way the attention economy has co-opted people with good intention is troubling and of course it happens on both sides of the political aisle.  In this case we can see the ridiculousness of it all, especially since so many products we buy and use are from companies that do far more harm than this man’s two tweets as a 16 year old high school student who thought he was trying to be funny.  It’s further concerning because this mentality of ‘cancel culture’ seems only interested in the condemnation of people, no matter how far in the past they held a certain view or acted in a certain way, and no matter what they have done since then.  No thought has been put into whether there is any apology good enough, or any actions that a person can take to restore public opinion about them.  I think this is important.  If we want to hold people accountable for their actions, we need to be able to also decide what is acceptable to make up for those mistakes.  I realize this is the hard part, there is going to be a lot of disagreement, but that doesn’t make it any less important.  Without that part, all we are doing is punishing and we move farther from creating the society we claim we want to create by supporting great liberal causes like better training for police, justice system reform, and decriminalization of illegal drugs.  These are great causes that indicates a desire for restorative justice over retributive justice.

I’m glad that readers of the newspaper fought back as I think many people also felt that we’re going off the deep end here.  Overall we have to do better.

*quote in feature image is from Quentin Thomas of the Brown Daily Herald

Salvation Army sneaks Creationist Literature to Children at Science Fair

Yesterday I took my son to a science fair here in our small city of Washington, PA called STEMfest.  It was the first time that such an event has occurred in the city, and after talking with one of the organizers I was pretty excited that this was something I could take my 5 year old. It was your typical science fair for the most part with local tech companies, universities and private high schools doing science demos and activities for kids.  For some reason the Salvation Army was there, but they seemed to be just there out of the goodness of their hearts.  They had little plastic cups where they helped the kids make slime.  Kids love making slime and then put it in a little ziploc bag.  I noticed that they also had slightly bigger Salvation Army plastic bags which I thought was just an extra safeguard in case the slime leaked out and didn’t get the other take home stuff from the event wet with slime.  However, something else was lurking in the bag.

Fast forward to this morning and my son is taking out stickers in this:

 

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Notice the cover indicates is meant to lure kids into believing this contains scientific information.  A bible resides on the science lab desk and somehow a cross appears in the atom symbol.

The pages inside don’t get any better by making their religious nonsense appear to be part of things for which we have scientific evidence.

 

At least they are promoting women in science right?  You can see the attempt to legitimize bible verses and religious rhetoric as scientific.  They have the gall to call this a Time Traveler Guide, but Day 1-5 is Creation, Old Testament, Visitation, Preparation, and Celebration. Inside is also a plastic transparency like thing where you are supposed to use a flashlight to find various scientific items, bible verses and symbols in a science lab.  A page of stickers, and then finally this exercise which asks the kid to “Complete the timeline with correct daily drawing sticker”

 

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My son was playing with stickers in the book before I saw what this was.  Fortunately he can’t read yet and constructed this according to his own logic, which I think you’ll like.  He says to me that “fire creates trees and then new leaves, leaves cause clouds and then rain, rain causes evil kings, and evil kinds lead to death.” We watch a lot of nature shows so he know forest fires lead to new growth and he knows trees give off a lot of moisture and creates clouds and rain in rain forests.  The evil king thing though remains a mystery.  🙂  Anyway, I told his explanation makes more sense than what this is actually trying to tell you.  This booklet is made by “Answers in Genesis”.  Which, as many know, is a particular dishonest Christian fundamentalist organization trying to push the Bible as being literally true (except for the parts that make no sense).

I am definitely going to complain to the organizers.  Despite this being a conservative county, I don’t expect they knew this was going on.  Given the one organizer I had talked to prior to the event, I don’t think the organizers intended for any booth to hand out religious literature.  The fact that such anti-science creationist nonsense was being snuck to kids, I’m sure (I hope) will come as a surprise.

My dad always had a soft spot for the Salvation Army as when my parents were starting out life together and didn’t have much money.  Salvation Army was helpful to them and was willing to marry them, as many other Christian pastors wouldn’t as they rejected a mixed marriage.  As a result I will still thrown in some money when they are asking for donations around Christmas time.  No longer.  The disturbing part here is how deviously the Salvation Army hid what they were handed out while sucking kids in with a fun activity, and how the booklet itself misrepresents religious claims as scientific with images meant to trick and indoctrinate children.  It’s simply appalling.  So be aware parents when taking your kids to a science event, you may find a wolf in a scientist’s clothing.

Bureaucracy

The dictionary defines bureaucracy as follows:

a system of government in which most of the important decisions are made by state officials rather than by elected representatives.
  • a state or organization governed or managed as a bureaucracy.
    plural noun: bureaucracies
  • the officials in a bureaucracy, considered as a group or hierarchy.
  • excessively complicated administrative procedure, seen as characteristic of bureaucracy.
    “the unnecessary bureaucracy in local government”

It is the last bullet point that I am most interested in talking about today, but I guess they are sort of part and parcel of the same.  Regardless of where you work, if you work in an organization that has a hierarchy you have faced some degree of bureaucracy.   We’ve likely all felt frustrated at times, and it seems every time you’ve figured it all out, or at least gotten used to a certain level of bureaucracy the game changes and you go back to being frustrated.

Bureaucracy can seem like a giant monster you have to contend with everyday and I’ve often wondered is this the intention, or is it more like Frankenstein’s monster.  We didn’t intend to create this dangerous creature, but well it’s out there now and we just have to live with it.  I think the answer is that likely both types of situations are true.  One can see how a bureaucracy might build innocently enough.  When things are small in a company the interface might just be a few employees directly to a boss.  Then as the business grows and there are more and more employees, the number of people in between the top and bottom grows.  It seems also possible that this middle serves important functions and if working efficiently can actually allow that organization to achieve a lot and improve everybody’s happiness in the workplace.  More often than not this middle takes on a life of it’s own, has it’s own hierarchy and over time becomes a nightmare. Here are some of my favorite people in a bureaucracy…perhaps you’ve met them.  Be aware there is much overlap in character here…it’s possible that all these people could exist in one person and these people are especially painful! 🙂

The Immortal – Every bureaucracy seems to have the one person who never seems to age.  They stay in the exact same position.  They aren’t particularly good at their job, but usually competent enough to not justify firing them.  You retire and somehow they are still there, even though they were there before you started.  When combined with one of the other types of bureaucrats, they become a nightmare that never ends.

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The Soulless – These bureaucrats are typically the type that work for immigration, embassies or consulates, but you find them elsewhere also.  They don’t care about your particular situation.  They don’t care if the rules don’t make sense.  They just don’t care.  They can’t even offer a sincere, “I’m sorry, I understand this must be difficult, but you are going to need to come tomorrow with the long form of your birth certificate.”  In fact they’ll usually let you know that you should have read the instructions more carefully regardless of how confusing and unhelpful those instructions are.

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The Follower – This person’s attention is only on their boss at all times.  Maybe they are sycophant, maybe they just live in fear of getting fired, either way they don’t see themselves as any type of authority even when their job grants them some authority.  It’s also possible that they are one of the soulless, who just like to use their boss as an excuse for why they can’t process your paperwork or help you in any way.  If a rule doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t matter.  They are just doing what they are told.  They don’t say things like “You make an excellent point, I’ll bring this up to my superior to see if we can’t design a more sensible process.”  They don’t show any signs of independent thought.  If you point out that something doesn’t make sense, they simply can’t agree with you.  They just point you in the direction of people above them.  These bureaucrats are often demeaning to those who work for them especially if they seem brighter than they are, and are presenting ideas of how to make things better.  They hate to look less competent than people under them to their boss, so they often lie to their superiors about the competence of those below them.

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The Not-My-Problem Stickler – These are some of the worse people.  They can be any of the above types as well.  These are people who know every rule, expect no boxes to be unchecked.  Anything missing in your paperwork or any rule not followed to a T according to their interpretation will lead them to refuse to help you.  Furthermore they may not even tell you that you haven’t followed the rules properly or filled out a form incorrectly.  It will simply sit on their desk, waiting for you to spend the time tracking down your paperwork as it moves through various offices, only to discover it is sitting on this person’s desk and so when you send a polite inquiry as to when they will process your paperwork, they respond to you as if you just reached your dirty hand in their bag of chips (crisps for you English types). “You had a date wrong here that didn’t match the date on page 3.” is a response you might get.  No explanation as to why they didn’t just call you and ask for clarification.  You made a mistake, you shouldn’t have made a mistake, and it’s really not their problem that you made a mistake.

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The Big Fish in a Small Pond – This is the worst of the lot, and also quite common.  Combined with any other types, which is usually the case, this is the type of person who makes you consider whether you should have hope for humanity as long as such people exist.  This bureaucrat is poster child of middle management.  They wield incredible amounts of power over their very small area.  The reason they are so powerful is because their position is important.  This is the type of person who might be the head of purchasing through which all parts of an organization must go through at some point.  While there are some upper management might like to have these kinds of people about, most of the time nobody likes them, and nobody can get rid of them because they technically do their job.  But they are so unhelpful in every way that the organization’s efficiency is reduced, because they have this incredible belief that they are the safeguard to the integrity of the organization like some Samurai Warrior uphold some ancient code of honor.   They are quite aware that they are untouchable and relish in the power they have.  They have authority to bend the rules, but they won’t.  They also will make up rules if they are in a bad mood, just to ruin your day too, and they do it with the utmost confidence that you have no recourse to them just deciding that you are not someone they feel like helping.  You’ve never seen them smile, except sardonically.  You wonder whether they’ve experienced anything good in their lives.  You wonder if they actually can’t even find joy in eating a cookie fresh out of the oven.  You wonder if maybe they just need some good sex and maybe then they’d become a reasonable human being.

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Whether the intent of the bureaucracy is to actually make it harder to get things done, or whether it’s just some accidental beast that grows out of control, the people who make up the bureaucracy cause a great deal of pain.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they are villains, or just people of less than average ability who were unemployable anywhere else.

The Wisdom in the Pages

Although I have a read a good portion of the Bible, I have spent little time reading the holy books of other religions.  I have read a bit of the Bhagavad Gita as for some reason it was sitting around in my doctor’s office waiting room for awhile.  It’s actually kind of an interesting book.  I science fiction book I had recently read made several references to the Upanisads and the Dhammapada and so I’ve been perusing those books.  It has been interesting reading how other ancient cultures viewed the world.  When you read things from the point of view of somebody from those times, when so very little was known about the world, you can appreciate the contents even though from the perspective of today much of it is nonsense.  There is wisdom to be found there as well, and I found many similarities between the Bible and the Upanisads in terms of the moral lessons it was trying to teach.  There are many possible stories that can teach the same lesson, and it seems pretty clear that even when you suspect they are trying to be literally true, it still represents a best guess, and that what they were really trying to do is find a way of communicating impressions and feelings about the universe even if their literal attempt of an explanation was incomplete.

Recently I was in my local coffee shop working and a group of women sat at the table next to me and they were having a Bible study together.  Although I’d say more than half of the time they were just giggling and talking about things unrelated to the Bible, they did focus on their planned lesson.  Of course this is typical of many Christians in which they have some guide that hand selects of few important verses to focus on so that the entirety of the narrative is not read by the follower.  Like the Upanisads, I expect many church leaders recognize the irrelevance of much of the Bible and would rather not have discussions about many of the passages in the Old testament especially.  Anyway, what was interesting is that when they contemplated the words of a specific verse they would often relate it to experiences in their own life.  As I could not help but overhear, it was fascinating to me how the verses containing some wisdom seemed to be already known by the women, because life lessons had already taught them it was true.  Nevertheless they didn’t seem cognitively aware and put the cart before the horse.  “Look at the wisdom of this book, it is telling me something I already know…genius!”  I think if you are led to believe in the inspiration and greatness of the word of God, it’s hard to think of it as anything but that.  If the wisdom in the pages matches your own experience then this will only give you more respect for the book.

Now it’s not to say that people don’t discover wisdom from holy books.  I am listening to a podcast right now where they are discussing some of the main problems in the field of social psychology in terms of how the work is performed.  One of the main critiques of social psychology is that a field it has actually become too obsessed with the creation of little experiments for the purpose of following the scientific method and almost forcefully trying to demonstrate it’s scientific rigor.  Social psychology is the study of the individual in a societal context and so they ask, why all these experiments, when none of these controlled situations are actually found in a social context?  It’s a valid point.  The hosts of the podcasts were arguing that what is missing from social psychology as compared to other scientific disciplines is scores of observations.  They use the example of Tycho Brahe the famous Dutch astronomer, who really didn’t come up with anything novel on his own, but what he did have was mounds and mounds of careful observations of the stars and planets.  Johannes Kepler was his student and came along and came up with his 3 laws of planetary motion.  It is Kepler’s genius that is recognized today, but he certainly could not have come up his laws without all those observations.  Just as Darwin could not have come up with the theory of evolution without all his observations on the Galapagos.

Astronomy is one of the oldest disciplines because there is little to do at night but look at the stars.  It occurred to me that once you had civilizations and had a certain portion of the population doing the farming, a few who could afford to live a life of leisure had little to do during the day but observe humans.  It seems no surprise to me that wisdom would be found in ancient texts based on many years of observations of people.  Many of us figure things out on our own simply by paying attention to life and taking time to reflect and introspect.  There was no formal scientific method back then, and we certainly aren’t using it in our everyday lives when we come to a conclusion like “Hey, maybe I’m spending too much time worrying about things that are out of my control.  I would be happier if I focused on the moment.”  This is the kind of good stuff we come up with through our experiences, and it seems to me that many of the scholars who wrote religious books were simply story tellers, weaving important moral and ethical lessons into the stories based on their observations of how people behaved and what consequences or rewards befell them.  Whether they were joyful, fulfilled, empty, or anxious.  Most of them I think were simply people who were observing constantly and coming to some conclusions about how to live a better life.

Pay attention, look inward, and talk to others for their stories.  There is wisdom to be found in holy books, but the good news is that you also have a decent chance of figuring it out on your own.

Discussion: Understanding Patriotism

Yesterday, one of my fellow bloggers made a post about how he doesn’t get all the drama surrounding national anthems, whether you stand, sing along, put your hand over your heart etc.  I share his sentiment.  I’m not much for forced rituals that are supposed to have meaning, but seem so common place, overdone, and generally practiced by so many people who don’t even seem to share those values that it just feels superficial.

I’d like to go a step further and say, I just really don’t understand the sentiment that people of your country are somehow more important than people from any other country.  This has been on my mind with the migrant crisis at the border.  You see so many comments from people who at best demonstrate indifference for refugees, to what essentially boils down to disgust.  I can’t for the life of me how the first reaction can’t be one of compassion.  These people are literally dying to get here, being made to suffer in intolerable detention centers because of the conditions that they are fleeing.  Instead of accepting that an entire political party simply uses any excuse to see them as people who need help.  Forget about accepting the fact that we made this problem through our fruitless war on drugs and that we should bear at least some responsibility for helping them now.

And nevermind the fact that when Syrian refugee crisis existed, the most moderate of Republicans well still like…”I won’t take them here, but we can help them over there.”  Meanwhile, I’ve heard when it was suggested that we provide aid to the central American countries as a way of keeping people there, people now say why should we give money to other countries?  Conservatives will talk about all the help American’s need here at home, but they won’t support welfare programs, they don’t put homelessness at the top of their political platforms, they won’t support first responders from 9/11.

I find the disregard for humans in need just insufferable.  Like being American was something most of us tried to do.  It wasn’t a choice, most of us were just born here.  If there is anybody who actually wants to be American it’s the people coming to our borders in need of help.  Accidents of geography are no basis to deny people who are suffering help.  Yet this patriotism banner is being waved like it actually means something.  Just maybe if such people were interested in helping Americans I might just believe it, but it’s all talk.  There are the people who can help, and those that need help.  That’s all.  Nationalism is meaningless to me, unless through that structure you can use that power to make lives better for other people on the planet that sustains us all.

Honestly I just don’t understand.  Anybody else that can help me to understand, I’m all ears.