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.

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.

The Unwise and the Immoral

The title of this post is related to another incident of victim blaming that was in the news not too long ago.  The incident involved model Bella Thorne having her computer hacked and the hacker making off with a number of private nude photos.  Bella Thorne, to sort of give a big “fuck you” to the hacker, released the photos herself on Twitter.  On The View, Whoopi Goldberg criticized Thorne saying essentially that one has to know in this day and age that storing such photos on a device connected to the internet (and you are a famous beautiful celebrity) is setting yourself up for this type of theft.  Goldberg then received a ton of backlash including some strong words from Thorne herself for being criticized when it was of course the hacker who was the person who did something wrong and that Goldberg “should know better”.  I suspect Goldberg does know better.  There is nothing about her that makes me think she isn’t a good feminist.  She has always had a no nonsense, blunt style and her comment here I don’t think is meant to give the hacker a pass.  I’ll go so far as to say that I think she makes a good point.  A point we should be able to talk about if framed correctly.  Before I get accused of victim blaming, let me go into more detail about what I mean.

Hacking is a reality of this day and age, and Thorne isn’t the first victim of this type of attack.  This has to be part of our consciousness.  There are laws against hacking, which is invading someone’s privacy and stealing personal property, and their should be.  It is theft and violation, plain and simple.  We can say that the hacker is immoral in his actions.  I think we can say that we all wish we lived in a world in which there were no hackers, and in which a woman’s body wasn’t a commodity that someone could profit on, such that this hacker could ostensibly get leverage over Thorne or other victims of this crime.  As a society we must continue to strive to fix this bigger problem.  Since we don’t live in that kind of society yet, we must also act wisely.  To do so requires us to be able to have conversations about wise and unwise actions to keep people and property from harm.  I am sort of reminded of that old joke where a guy meets a doctor at a social gathering and tries to get some free medical advice and says “Hey doc, my arm hurts whenever I do this. (Imagine whatever arm motion you like).  What should I do?”  And the doctor responds “Don’t move your arm like that.”  Clearly there is a bigger issue to solve Image result for moving arm gifwith that person’s arm, but in the short term, not doing a motion that causes you pain might be wise.  We should be able to simultaneously talk about short term solutions to protect ourselves, while also addressing bigger issues that increase equality and safety for all people rendering this short term acts of caution more irrelevant over time.

If there is a neighborhood where you have an increased chance of being mugged or harmed, all sorts of people will tell you to avoid walking through that neighborhood.  It is not meant to say that they condone violence or theft upon you or anybody else, it is simply meant as advice to keep you out of harms way.  We don’t get all bent out of shape by such advice, but the conversation goes south when women are blamed for their decisions in these types of incidents, or worse crimes like sexual violence.  And I think for good reason.  There have been some criticisms of social media for the fighting that erupted between two women who are likely on the same side of the fight against the patriarchy, but I’m actually not too upset about social media here, because maybe this is a conversation that needs to be had more often.

We have an older and wiser Goldberg, criticizing the wisdom of a younger Thorne.  Perhaps Goldberg feels like she was helping young girls everywhere be wary of putting compromising pictures of themselves in less than secure places based on what can happen to them.  Goldberg’s mistake however was that she also lacked some wisdom here.  As much as I’d like to live in a society where we could have honest conversations about what is a wise or unwise decision when crimes happen, when it comes to crimes against women there is just a long history of the “unwise” decision of a woman being used as an excuse for a man’s immorality and criminal behavior.  If a person is beaten and robbed in that unsafe neighborhood, the police will still arrest and charge the perpetrators, but too many men have gotten off Scot free because of what was deemed a woman’s unwise decision.  Furthermore the basis of what was considered unwise for a woman, does not apply to a man.  In fact very often their unwise decisions are used to further excuse them from wrongdoing.  A woman drinks too much at a party?  Well then of course she kind of Image result for victim blamingdeserves to be raped.  A guy drinks too much at a party? Well clearly he didn’t really mean to rape her, he just had too many beers and didn’t know what he was doing.  Let’s just sentence him to talk about the dangers of drinking.  It’s a huge problem and women have a right to absolutely tired of it.  Goldberg could have said what she said in a much better way that made it clear who the bad actor was in this situation.

Let me also add that the best people in our society are ones who could take advantage but don’t and instead help people be more safe.  Thorne was already punished and probably knows by now what she should have done and doesn’t need Goldberg’s advice after the fact.  So the timing of the comment is also unhelpful.  Like Fareed Zakaria’s advice to Sam Harris after another rant about Islam being the mother lode of bad ideas “Yeah, you’re right, but you’re not helping.”  Being right, and being helpful are often two different things.

Message Received

I’d like to broach a subject,
About something we all do.
While we might be social creatures,
Some folks make us mad or blue.

So what are the things you do,
To avoid having a conversation?
Have you ducked into a restroom,
Feigning troubling constipation?

Have you ever silenced your phone,
Or just tossed it in your trunk?
Claimed a received message was errant?
Then said, “Boy technology is junk!”

Have you minimized a window,
Or changed the size of the page,
Just to not even see the name,
Of someone who causes you fits of rage?

Have you said you’re off to bed,
Even when you stay up late,
Just to binge on your favorite show,
Or get rid of that annoying date?

Have you just replied “LOL”
Just to get the parlay to end?
Or said, “Aw, I meant to reply,
But I forgot to hit ‘SEND’”?

Have you ever received an e-mail,
But just didn’t give a damn?
And replied in the second one,
That their first one went to spam.

Sometimes you’ve missed a message,
And don’t want anyone to know,
Thankfully software has no feelings,
Or carries grudges to let go.

I am not saying that it’s right,
To act with so little grace,
But in this communication age,
We all need a bit of space.

And truly, people can be annoying,
I’m no exception to the rule,
And we often escalate the drama,
As our response just adds more fuel.

Go too far and you may risk,
Being without and job and all alone,
We need goodwill and interaction,
No human is a stone.

But there is no shame in practicing,
Some insanity prevention,
By not sinking in a morass of time,
From some acquaintance’s dissension.

Find your peace and your balance,
With your tricks and your white lies,
You’re going to feel a little guilt,
But it also might be wise.

If I don’t have time to reply
To your comments about this verse,
I promise that the excuses I give,
Are all very well rehearsed.

Discussion: The Decay of an Empire

As some of you may remember I am a big Isaac Asimov fan.  There was a passage in his book “Prelude to Foundation” that struck me as similar to what we might be facing here in the U.S.  I have found Asimov’s observations about society very astute.  Keep in mind this is in the future and in relation to a galactic empire.

Seldon:  Surely people don’t sit around and say “We’re decaying.  Let’s let the Expressways fall apart.”

Hummin:  No they don’t.  It’s not a purposeful thing.  Bad spots are patched, decrepit coaches refurbished, magnets replaced.  However, it’s done in a more slapdash fashion, more carelessly, and at greater intervals.  There just aren’t enough credits available.

Seldon:  Where have the credits gone?

Hummin:  Into other things.  We’ve had centuries of unrest.  The navy is larger and many times more expensive than it once was.  The armed forces are much better-paid, in order to keep them quiet.  Unrest, revolts and minor blazes of civil war all take their toll.

Seldon: But it’s been quiet under Cleon.  And we’ve had 50 years of peace.

Hummin:  Yes, but soldiers who are well-paid would resent having that pay reduced just because there is peace.  Admirals resist mothballing ships and having themselves reduced in rank simply because there is less for them to do.  So the credits still go – unproductively – to the armed forces and vital areas of the social good are allowed to deteriorate.  That’s what I call decay.  Don’t you?

It struck me that this is, at least in part, what we are seeing here in the U.S.  Of course it’s not the whole story, but it made me think about how institutions, not just the military can grow fat.  Once we build up an institution in a time of need, we rarely shrink it back down.  In fact what usually happens is that the government just works to justify the bloat.  I think this phenomenon might even be true for private industry as well.  The blog I re-posted on my blog last week is kind of along these lines.  Capitalism has its benefits, but as corporations (sort of representation of a bloated private entity) grow they begin to have to justify their continued existence and work to convince people that they need whatever they are selling.

We hear phrases like “too big to fail” and maybe it’s all true.  Maybe there is nothing to be done about it, and maybe that’s why empires are bound to fail.  But I tend to lean towards the idea that a lot of it is based on the conceit an empire has in itself, but maybe that too is inevitable.  I mean how can one easily learn humility when they’ve been on top for so long?  Doing so would require an admission of mistakes, and empires are terrible at admitting those.

Thoughts?

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As an aside –  to give you an idea of why I like Asimov so much, I wanted to share the Afterword he wrote for his novel “Currents of Space”:

The Currents of Space was written in 1951 and was first published in 1952.  At that time, comparatively little was known of the astrophysics of nova formation and my speculation concerning “carbon currents” was legitimate.  Astronomers know much more now and it seems quite certain the nature of the currents of space have nothing to do with nova formation (though, as it happens, the analysis of interstellar clouds of dust and gas has become far more interesting now than ever I imagined in 1951).  This is too bad, for my speculations concerning the currents of space were so clever (in my opinion) that I feel they should have been true. Still the Universe goes its own way and won’t bend merely to pay homage to my cleverness, so I can only ask you to suspend your disbelief in respect to nova-formation and enjoy the book (assuming you do) on its own terms).

The beginning of the sentence starting with “Still…” is my own emphasis in bold.  Wouldn’t it be nice if more people thought like this?

What the World Might Be Like

I was watching Monty Python on Saturday and as always I am just captured by their brilliance.  But a thought occurred to me and it showed me how much I have changed from the 16 year old Monty Python addict I used to be.  I watched these 6 comedy geniuses and wondered do I only know them because at the time they made the show, it wasn’t possible for 6 female comedy geniuses to share the airwaves.

When I look at the figures in history who have amazed and inspired me.  All of them are men.  Then I thought about all the many scientists who have changed the world, the famous artists and musicians who we still herald as the greats of all time, the great and wise leaders, philosophers…99.99% of them are men.

I guess I don’t doubt that many of these historical greats would still rise to the top, but what would history look like if, through millennia women were allowed to compete too?  How much more textured would our world be when the other half of the population were actually allowed to participate?  So many opportunities for competition and collaboration lost.  Right now our world is shaped by men, and I think that a history in which women had an equal say in it’s direction would have been a better one.  I hope humanity does make it another 10,000 years at least so at some point someone can look back as I am doing now and see a much more pluralistic history.  One that has been truly shaped by all that humanity has to offer.