June 4, 2013

There she is… She’s Miss how-you-have-to-look-to-be-acceptable…

Filed under: Conversations,Observations,Values — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 11:45 pm

This post might seem a touch self-contradictory at best and outright hypocritical at worst… it’s probably a bit of both in reality. Yesterday I saluted a friend for an outstanding blog post on the ills (well, one specific ill, to be fair) of beauty pageants. Today I was called on the carpet by an old friend for doing so. Now, in front of you… I’m going to investigate that. I’m not sure where this is going to end up, because I haven’t really thought much about it… I just opened the “new post” dialog box and started typing…

Let me start by saying I still completely agree with Jeanne’s stance and actions and my subsequent words about them yesterday.


The background:

The link (to her piece): http://idahobusinessreview.com/2013/06/03/a-judgment-call/

My comment on her Facebook page:

My Comment on my share of her piece on my Facebook wall:

Needless to say I was supportive… and again, I remain so…

But then I got an email from an old college friend… an excerpt:

Have you really changed this much, or are you pandering? To be blunt, we spent hours talking about physical attraction in school and one of your main tenants was always that beauty should be equal in stature to other qualities you might evaluate about another person – SO LONG AS – it was given equal weight with all of the other qualities of the woman. This seems to be the model in these pageants, so what gives? What has changed? Why are “intelligence,” “sense of humor,” or “compassion” (etc.) valid qualities yet “how well someone takes care of themselves” is not?

I’ll start by pointing out what is missing from her email… context. Our discussions centered on dating. Specifically, selecting a single person out of the myriad of potential companions in whom one would invest their relationship equity (AKA time). Within that context, I probably hold the same beliefs that I held back then (again, I haven’t given it much thought… I just read her words and started typing). I have long held that 1. it is wrong to judge someone solely based on their looks, body, or other physical attributes and b. that is is also wrong to ignore physical attraction when selecting a potential mate or life partner. I do believe that violating either of these (lets call them) “principles” almost completely precludes success in long-term relationships.

I’m going to assume everyone understands why physical attraction is important to the coupling process, and move on to the meat of the subject (if you are unclear, or think others might be… there is a comments area below… ask and you shall receive).

While physical attributes in a one to one relationship go beyond “fair” and move more toward “critical” in making one’s choices, that does not mean that they should be a key component in a societal view of a particular gender (or any other group of people). What it does (among other things, some of which I intend to talk about some I do not) is detract from peoples ability to find the best match for them. When we, as a society, define the perfect waist, chest, arm, or thigh size; we deprecate the ability of individuals to make decisions on what they personally find attractive. It creates an artificially high weight on the attractiveness factor based on the knowledge of what public opinion is.

In other words, if you know 90% of people like cool-aide and you are selecting a drink, there is a decent chance you will select cool-aide even if you prefer water simply to avoid dealing with comments regarding your choice. If you don’t believe me… order a water the next time you and the guys (I assume it is the same for girls… but I can’t say for sure) go out for a drink and see what happens. There will be comments… I assure you. For many, this is enough pressure to lead them to have a beer or a glass of wine they don’t really want resulting in an evening that isn’t as rewarding as it could have been.

This pressure is over a drink… now imagine how much greater is to for selecting your life partner. Someone you will introduce to your parents, your friends, your co-workers etc. If you KNOW someone you might otherwise like does not measure up to the image society has given you for a successful “hunt” how is that going to effect your actions?

Ignored (but not forgotten) so far in my ramblings is the effect on the folks on the other side of the equation… the ones trying to fit into that norm so that they will be considered attractive. I’ll let a few numbers talk to this point:

  • Of female students surveyed on a typical college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight
  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys nationwide use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives
  • The mortality rate associated with Anorexia Nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old

I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain or expand on those numbers and what they mean to both individuals and society on the whole. When society establishes a norm and exerts pressure on people to comply with that norm, the health of that society (and the individuals within it) suffers… the end.

Which brings me back to Jeanne’s piece. Pageants are not deciding, in a one-to-one-life-partner way, what is attractive for an individual. Rather, they are setting a standard for an entire society; and it is in this that they are wrong. One of the comments on her article reads:

Another read:

As I read these I couldn’t help but think about a radio interview I had recently heard about a woman who spent time in jail (for civil disobedience in protest of something… can’t remember what right now). The shows host asked her why she didn’t just pay the fine and avoid jail time and she responded that’s what the big corporations that she was protesting did. They built the fines for their unethical actions into their business model and treated them as just another cost of doing business; “right and wrong” were replaced by “profit and loss” as their guiding principle or moral compass. In her view, if it was wrong for them, it was wrong for her as well and so she didn’t just write a check to excuse her behavior, she paid the full price of incarceration.

But enough about other people, what about me.

Have I changed my views? Am I pandering? … No, I don’t think so.

I still believe that when an individual is finding their life partner all things should be considered (including attractiveness). I have a proclivity toward brunettes (sorry blondes… it’s nothing personal)… for whatever reason they simply trip a trigger in me that blondes don’t. As such I tended to gravitate that way when I was dating. Since I (typically, this piece being a bit of an exception) do not advocate or even share that preference, I do not feel badly about it effecting my personal choices.

Pageants do something different, however. They pit one (toned, fit and usually slight) body against another, in a contest to see who’s body is the best. It’s this public judging of one against the other than helps to establish, enhance, and uphold a cultural “norm” that our society – as a whole – embraces… with some pretty awful results.

I think, as Jeanne points out in her piece, it is wonderful what the Miss X pageants do in the way of community service efforts. For me though, it’s just not enough to offset the damage that being a standard bearer for what is and is not “attractive” in society causes. As Jeanne adroitly points out, with a few tweaks, this could probably work for everyone. However, if I am to blunt – as my friend was with me – as long as there are women parading around in bikini’s and high heals in front of other people judging them on how they look… all of that charitable giving just smacks of “blood money” and the ends simply don’t justify the means…

April 30, 2013

Without tolerance, there’s something missing…

So, I’ll just admit it. Five years ago, I was a hater. A big time hater who eschewed most of what he believed in in order to advocate for what he believed in. I think the technical term for this is hypocrite. And like most things, it got worse before it got better (assuming I can justifiably call where I am now better… I have no idea how I will judge myself in five more years).


This little epiphany came to me shortly after I was sorting through and processing news related to Jason Collins, specifically the reactions of other people to his announcement. This may seem unrelated to what follows, but bear with me… they connect (at least in they mystical ether more commonly referred to as my brain). A friend came up to me and showed me a picture on Facebook with President Bush and President Obama standing together with a caption that read something like “like if you think Bush was a better President.”

Laughter ensued, and a few snarky comments as well. But then it struck me, there are a lot of people who would be inclined to hit that like button. A lot of good, intelligent, compassionate people for that matter. And here I was mocking them, and then… suddenly… I was transported back in time to 1984 with the sage words of none other than the great prophet General Public resounding through my mind and into my soul:

I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence

Hyperbole aside, this is where my mind went. I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there is a group of people who really sincerely believe that President Bush was the better leader of the free world. I went on to say (in my mind) “who am I to berate them for that?” Our country is deeply divided right now over… well.. pretty much everything. This is not because one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong (if that were true we wouldn’t be so deeply and evenly divided); more-so, it is because we are investing so much time and energy in pretending that the other side is clearly wrong – and deriding them for it – that we aren’t spending any (or at least enough) time actually trying to come up with solutions.

I, for example, in my excitement to support the candidate I had chosen, jumped firmly on the waxing tide of vitriol being heaped on outgoing President Bush as part of the Obama campaign. Completely ignoring the fact that Bush was not running in 2008, so anything dumped on him had nothing to do with the election that year. What I saw in Obama, a chance for progress toward general equality and tolerance I was conveniently evading in my own political rhetoric.

Coming back to Mr Collins announcement yesterday. I am happy, impressed and (more than anything else) thankful with/to him for taking that all important first step and “coming out.” I was also overwhelmed with the initial outpouring of positive emotion and support for him from athletes and others. Then some of the “other” responses started to trickle in. Mark Jackson said:

“As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family and I’m certainly praying for them at this time.”

This was actually filed under the “positive” responses… I didn’t take it that way (I’m not going to go into how I did take it as that would run contrary to what I’m trying to say with this post… you can be your own judge).

Mike Wallace posted an update on twitter wondering why, with so many attractive females around, a guy would want to mess around with another guy. An ESPN reporter went off on a bit of a rant about living in sin and what it was or was not to be Christian.

It was Mr. Wallace’s comments that really struck me. My instant (in my mind, again) response was something along the lines of:

That’s like asking a football player (which he is) – “with so many good basketball games going on, why would you want to waste your time on football” – or, asking a person who is eating Thai food – “with so many good Italian joints out there, why would you take your chances on Thai”…

In short, it’s a matter of taste. My sister (despite being brought up in a good family and being loved as a child) loves (**LOVES**) mayonnaise. I, by contrast, loath the fact that it exists and might accidentally get on a spoon I could possibly use months (and numerous washings) later. Other than the fact that *I think* she is bat-shit crazy for liking the stuff, there is nothing wrong with my sisters view. Further, no amount of intense personal loathing of the creamy white menace on my part will make her wrong (let alone change her taste for it).

There is also nothing wrong with Mr. Collins being more attracted to men than to women. In a more open, equal society he might be just as confused about why Mr. Wallace likes women as Mr. Wallace is currently confused about Collins predilection toward men. And that’s the thing, we should be able to treat someones sexual orientation (or political views) like my sister and I treat her taste (or my lack thereof) for mayonnaise (with respectful levity if anything at all).

But somehow we can’t. Bush has to be a villain and the worst President in history, God has to hate fags, I’m supposed to hate Mike Wallace (or Chris Culliver before him) and on and on it goes. What we fail to grasp, at times, is that while something may be a complete abomination to some of us (I’m looking at you, mayonnaise), what someone else feels about it is none of our business. Even when we view it as a sin or a blight against humanity we also need to remember that people are blessed with free will and can sin, blight, and abominate to their hearts content… so long as they are not harming others in the process. It is not our job to “fix” them, and even if it were… hating on them won’t do it.

The same friend who brought me the picture this morning also made the point to me yesterday that people shouldn’t be chided for openly and honestly sharing their feelings (ALA Mr. Wallace), even if they run contrary to the feel good mood of the day. And he’s right. He’s right because at the end of the day it’s not how well we articulate our opinions of someone else’s views that will make the world a better place, but rather, how well we tolerate, understand and ultimately respect those views no matter how much we might disagree with them.

April 10, 2013

The Decisive Element…

Some of the “Facebook history threads” or whatever they are called are hilarious, some are patently offensive… the one I read today, while having doses of both, I found to be more instructive or insightful (even if – perhaps – accidentally so).

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know one of my pet peeves is when someone willingly relinquishes their position of righteousness and joins the madding crowd. This usually take the form of some form of revenge or vigilante justice. I should be up front about this… I’m a prime example of a person who – despite awareness, loathing and best efforts – has done, and most likely will continue to do, this very thing. It drives me no less crazy (in fact considerably more-so) when I am the one doing it.

Getting back to the little comedic history (this one was about WWII) there was this clip:

Note the (very short) journey of common sense in this clip. From a rather… dare I say… common sense response to one charged with anger and retribution. For now I’m going to ignore all of the pro/con arguments about the use of atomic power at the end of WWII, that is not the point of this piece. Rather I want to talk about how our emotions effect our thinking, judgement, and finally actions.

Literally years ago (it will be 5 years in May… unbelievable that I have been at this that long) I wrote about the somewhat famous Stanford prison experiment, the effects of the war in Iraq on our soldiers and other manifestations of stress et. al. Like the clip above, these are all cases of seemingly normal, healthy, and good people going bad.

At the very least, without context, their actions would be taken as bad, and in some cases even with full disclosure there is seemingly no excuse for what transpired. In the case of the clip above, in an attempt at humor, the creator has captured the essence of how so many bad decisions are made and bad actions taken. Given the right stimulus the human brain can rationalize any action. Note, for example, that the motivation for the sudden change of heart was actions taken by the Germans… while Japan received the atomic treatment.

Atomic (and nuclear) weapons will never do the bulk of their damage against the perpetrators of atrocities, but instead the majority of the victims will be the (at least relatively) innocent people having the misfortune of being born within the borders of the “evil doers” country. At best, tens of thousands of civilians (again, arguably completely innocent) will die for every truly “bad” person killed in such an attack. Morally, practically, and certainly with an eye toward justice, it makes absolutely no sense as a solution… and yet…

I had an online conversation yesterday and today regarding a rape/suicide and the perpetrators who walked away pretty much scotfree. The conversation was ripe anger (perhaps more accurately: rage) frustration, and helplessness. What was disturbing to me though were the calls for retribution rather than justice. There was talk of meat grinders, forced suicide etc. etc. etc. I understand the anger and hopelessness, and feel it myself, but I do not think sinking to an equally destructive position does the world any good. It might (or might not) make an individual feel better, but what has it done to reshape the rape/sexploitation/comodification of women culture we live in? what had it done to prevent the next Stuebenville, or Halifax, or wherever?

Slap on the wrist sentences are ridiculous and no more equal to justice than meat grinders. However, trivial punishments are something that we can reasonably attempt to address, without becoming part of a spiral of anger and destruction. Moreover, when it comes to changing the culture we live in, punishing the perpetrators of these crimes to the extreem is a bit like putting a mattress on the spot a jumper landed when they threw themselves to their death. It won’t bring them back, it won’t save the next person (even in the highly unlikely situation that they land in the same spot), and it won’t change the circumstances that led that person and anyone having already jumped or considering taking their own lives from following that path.

What we need is a fundamental societal shift.

When determining the guilt or innocence of someone accused of a crime their actions, and only their actions, need to be considered. It doesn’t matter what their victim was wearing, singing or doing with their cherry stem… what matters is what the accused did with their hands (or other implements). This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


When the US patent office receives a copyright application for “breastaurant” they need to reject it on the spot and initiate the biggest sexual workplace harassment investigation in history. Cause, seriously, I can’t say “you look great in those jeans” to a co-worker (not that I want to… just making a point) but that joker can call his bikini clad employees (all of them, nationwide!!!) “breastaurant workers” and that’s totally cool???? This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


And, when a car company tries to sell used cars by saying “you know you’re not the first, but do you really care” we all need to say enough! If the workplace is the only place a woman can feel protected from being reduced to a commodity (not that she really can, but at least there are some laws that *should* protect her there) we are doing something drastically wrong. This is actionable, you can write your congress person, start a petition, write a blog, talk to your sons and daughters… or… or… or… the bottom line is that you can take action without compromising yourself and with the bigger goal of improving our national (global) quality of character.


I could go on, but you get the point (and I’ve drifted a bit from mine).

The things that we see, hear, experience in the world effect us… at times they infuriate us. What we do about that is up to us. It is – often – not easy to find a productive reasoned response to what we are exposed to (as I said at the beginning, I often fail at this); however, in the long run, doing so is exactly what will help us manifest the change we want to see in the world. At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure that restraint and constructive reactions are and will be what separate us from being the worst that we can be… and provide the potential for attaining some much more than we can imagine ourselves accomplishing.

Or, put better, by someone far smarter than I:

June 9, 2010

Microwave a Pop Tart for 3 seconds…

Filed under: A life worth living,Conversations,Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 4:09 pm

There is a phrase/question, a little overused, but of value none the less, that goes something like this:

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow (in a week/in a month/whatever), what would you do; and, why aren’t you doing it?

The message is simple and clear, you only get one crack at it, why not make the most of it… starting now.  People are often surprised when they run out of time, they wonder where their lives went and why they never climbed that mountain, jumped out of that (perfectly sound!!!) airplane, or went on that grand adventure.

The bottom line, however, is this: if you wait long enough, everything will stop becoming an option.  Eventually, there will be no marathons to run, no scuba dives to make, no cross country road trips to take… no tomorrow.  We are each granted a finite number of “today’s” and an even smaller (by one) number of “tomorrow’s.”  With that comes the inevitable question: what are you doing with them?

I was enjoying a conversation with someone this morning about their “bucket list.”  It included things like “see the northern lights,” and “save someone’s life” (rather amazingly, given that she is a teen, the latter is already accomplished and crossed off of her list).

What really caught my attention though, were a few other items, exemplified perfectly by “Microwave a Pop Tart for 3 seconds.”  It is both less random and more pedestrian than it sounds, those are the exact microwave preparation instructions on the package.  But that is the simple curious beauty of this particular item.

So often it is the everyday things that we do not do that haunt us later in life.  It is living within 30 minutes from the coast, but only having been to the beach a handful of times (or, gasp!!! … not at all); living in Vegas, but never seeing a show; in San Francisco but never having walked the golden gate bridge or visited Alcartaz.

We get so engrossed in our lives we often have to leave town to relax and enjoy living them.

Several months ago (the end of September, 2009), inspired by my friend Claudia, I set out to accomplish 100 goals in 100 days.  Today (June 9th, 2010) I have accomplished (drum roll please!!!) 78 of them.  Obviously, in order to be realistic, many of these goals were set very low to the ground.  Others were more lofty and would require quite a bit of effort to accomplish.

What is interesting to me, however, is that the rate of success on the low hanging fruit is roughly the same as that of the complex tasks.  In fact, if I had managed to accomplish all of the relatively effortless items (i.e. “clean out my domain inventory” and “review and update my birthday calendar”), I would have accomplished 96 of my 100 goals instead of 78.

Again, simple attainable goals, even though – in this case – I had the advantage of identifying and setting out to accomplish them, left incomplete.  When I look back at my nearly 300 days since creating the list, there is no way to justify not having time to accomplish any of the items on my list (okay, maybe the movie was pushing it a bit), let alone the little ones.  Yet, undone 22 of them remain.

If yesterday, today was my last tomorrow… I’d certainly like to think I had lived my life to the fullest.  Maybe I didn’t get my domains sorted out, but that at least I had spent my time enjoying life, satisfying my curiosities, and doing the little things that make life worth living, no matter how simple they might be.

… like microwaving a Pop Tart for three seconds…

March 2, 2009

What the frip?

Filed under: Conversations,Observations — sbj @ 11:40 pm

An economist friend of mine and I were talking over the weekend about, you guessed it, the economy. It was, without a doubt, the same conversation that hundreds of other economists (or, in my case, pseudo-armchair economists… I’m not even cool enough (read: qualified) to be an full-fledged armchair economist) have had regarding Housing and Credit Card issues of late. We were discussing bubbles.

Whenever the conversation shifts to these topics, especially the housing situation, it seems like it is nearly a requirement for someone to bring up the bubble reference. In most cases the telling of the South Seas Company story is not required. Either the people involved are familiar with the story, or they are so acclimated to the term that the actual historic lessons learned have been rendered irrelevant.

Note: If you are interested in the history, I recommend the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The whole book is fantastic, and the explanation of the South Sea Bubbles is as good as any I have read.

As our conversation continued, my friend started talking about the housing bubble and, for the first time, it really hit me.

I do not believe there is a housing bubble.

I do not believe there is a credit card bubble.

I do not believe there was an internet bubble either.

In point of fact, what I believe is that we, dear citizens of the United States of America, are the bubble. Our entire way of life has become a hyperbolic expression of what freedom as well as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness meant, in the minds of our forefathers.

I’m not sure what the total cost of our sports entertainment was in 2008, but I know the player salaries of the NFL and MLB alone totaled more than $6.5 billion (obviously, player salaries are only a portion of the spend, and, this does not include any other sports). We paid $8.3 billion for admissions to the top 100 grossing movies in 2008 (this does not include movies like Leatherheads, Defiance, The Love Guru and several others that grossed over $30 million in the US, but were not in the top 100).

Is it just me, or are we leaning just a little too heavily on the pursuit of happiness (and… in doing so, have we perhaps also strayed a bit from its original context)? Our financial system rewards the dreamer, the entrepreneur and the risk taker, which is a fabulous vision. However, in retrospect, how different is that then what was going on in London in the early 1700’s once you take the substance out of the equation and substitute entertainment or gadgetry in its place.

My hope, as I spewed forth all of this drivel, was that my esteemed economist friend would point out how flawed my thinking was. I was waiting for the poo-poo little thinker, here is the big picture vision you are lacking. My hope was falsely laid… his response was, simply… “pop, pop, pop. You live in a society based on profit, accomplishment, and frippery rather than compassion, humanity or virtue what do you expect is going to happen.” (okay okay… I added frippery, he said frivolity but I never get to use frippery in my every day conversations so I took a little license with the quote :) )

My hope is not expired, of course (have you met me?). I have many friends who are fighting the good fight. They are working for sensible energy policies, they do not watch (much) tv, they even (gasp!!) bring their own bags to the grocery store (and they do so much more than I can mention here).

No, we have not passed the point of no return, however, as they say, the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that you have one. This is that time. We are the bubble, my friends, and if we don’t get ourselves under control we are going to pop.

Pop, pop, pop…

January 1, 2009

It’s almost like I know what I’m talking about…

Filed under: Conversations,Observations — sbj @ 7:25 pm

A couple months ago while I was hanging out with a group of friends there was kind of an interesting mix of couples and single parents talking about raising children. The first (primary to the story) couple had reached their late 30’s without having any children, the second had younger children that were just reaching the age of independence, and I was in the conversation as well.

The second couple was relaying a story about how they were having trouble being the positive influence they wanted to be with their daughter. They tried to set a good example, but she continued to drift off the path they were setting for her. Not in major ways, but just making choices that they did not agree with, or thinking of herself before others.

The first couple chimed in at this point and stated how couple number two should just take charge and tell their daughter what to do, in fact demand she do so. “Lay down the law” they said (amongst other things), removing any doubt we may have had about their parental experience.

I countered with something along the lines of this:

In my experience, you are doing it exactly right. While children often do not respond instantly to the right messages when they are placed in front of them they do tend to see and digest them. Just like adults, children like to own something before actually using it. Given time, I am certain you will see the values you are planting within come to fruition. Parenting is the ultimate exercise in delayed gratification, and, if you are up to the task, the most rewarding thing you will ever do.

On Christmas Eve, this year, I was able to see this manifest itself before me with both of my boys, making it one of the best holidays of my life.

Early in the day we had the family “penny hunt” where all of the children search for change hidden throughout the house and yard. What used to be searching for pennies, has, of course, evolved into searching for coins of all shapes, sizes and denominations. I’m not saying that you could make a living at it if you searched daily… but… for a kid, its decent work if you can get it.

Later that evening we were having a round of toasts for Farfar, and my dad, while giving his toast mentioned that he was going to pass around the Santa hat and anyone who wanted to could donate something to the Stanford Children’s Hospital in Farfar’s name. During this announcement my cousin burst into tears. You see, he survived cancer in his twenties and part of his strength to battle through it came from watching those children fight the good fight.

A little later we were passing an elf hat around and each person was placing the hat on his head and saying (in as rich a Danish accent as they could muster) they’re favorite Farfar phrase or quote. During this process, the youngest (eight) asked for “the hat.” Everyone assumed he wanted to give his own Farfar quote and he was handed the elf hat.

At that point he quietly excused himself from the table, retrieved his change bag from earlier in the day and promptly began the transfer of funds. Needless to say, the idea was *not* for the children to be making donations. To the best of my knowledge, he was the only child that did(this is not a criticism of the other kids, again, it was not expected of them). I, of course, could not have been more delighted with him.

Later that evening my cousin (same one mentioned before) came up to my oldest and said “we’ve had a very good year (he and two of my other cousins are in business together) and we want to get you something you really want, so… what do you really want. We want to make it special, you name it and its yours.”

My sons response was this: “take whatever you were going to spend on me, and donate it to the Children’s Hospital.” Queue tears… roll ‘em! My cousin, of course, argued. He said the gift was for my son, something special for him. To which the teen countered that seeing my cousin so happy and moved was *exactly* what he wanted, and was special.

Both of my boys, on one of the two most bountiful days of the year (for children), put someone else before themselves. They both were selfless when the option for selfishness was available. As such, their father received the best Christmas gift he could ever imagine.

On the drive home my mind turned back to that conversation I’d had a couple months earlier, and I have to say, in this instance, I’m very glad I followed my own advice…

December 12, 2008

Murder Death Kill…

Filed under: Conversations,Observations — sbj @ 3:36 am

A good friend of mine suggested that I write about the latest (and I quote) “stupid suicide bombing” in Iraq. Her emphasis, as I understand it at the time, was on the stupid part of it and I was in agreement with her, until the conversation went a little deeper.

It was at this point that I realized that she meant to single out the suicide bombers as stupid, not violence in general. Part of her premise was that suicide bombers attack randomly focusing their attacks on civilians and therefore lacking the nobility of other technologies and approaches.

To be fair, she did state that she thought all violence was stupid, but that it could also be grouped and some was more stupid than others. Again, to quote, she pointed out that I was “intelligent enough” to figure out which was which.

So, against my general philosophy, that all violence is equally bad, and that it should not, in fact, be broken down into subcategories, I have decided to take a comparative look at various forms of war time violence and see what I can do about demonstrating the intelligence she is so confident resides within me.

Before I try to tackle the statistical side of this, I would like to address what I think are the two major themes in warfare. Simply put there is, typically, an aggressor and a responder. In my view, the unprovoked aggressor (the provoked aggressor, of course, is actually a responder) is always the more “stupid” of the two, since we are being forced to evaluate by degree of stupid, that is. Therefore, for example, when an invading convoy meets a resisting suicide bomber, by default, I’m going to give the greater stupid score to the convoy.

I do not discriminate, when allocating stupid points, based on the resources for waging war present in the warring factions arsenal. If you have only a pile of rocks, and you start a war you get extra value stupid points, if you only have a pile of rocks and you try to defend yourself with them, just regular stupid points… if any. Same is true if you have an atomic bomb, or any other weapons system in-between.

I also do not discriminate based on the flag you have painted on your tank (or on your rocks). If you start the conflict, without provocation or probable cause, you just hit the daily double on stupid. If you are just defending yourself, you show up as normal to none on the stupid-o-meter.

Long story made sort, if you can prove your case, “he started it” goes a long way with me. Considerably farther than the efficiency of your weapons targeting, and infinitely further than whether you took your own life along with you victims or not.

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • With mostly conventional weaponry in play, civilian casualties in World War I numbered nearly 10,000,000.
  • With refined technology the civilian death toll in World War II was 35 million, which was actually greater than the number of military deaths (25 million).

Fortunately as we have progressed over the years, our technology has become better and surely the civilian populations have benefited from this. I found an essay on this exact subject, here are some of the results.

Even “smart bombs” kill civilians often, and some even say that such precision bombs statistically do not reduce civilian deaths at all: in the Gulf War 3 percent of bombs were precision-guided, in 1999 in Yugoslavia 30 percent were, and in an Afghanistan air campaign in 2001 it was 70 percent, but each time the ratio of civilians killed to bombs used is higher than the last time. In the 1991 Gulf War, a flawless smart bomb hit a bomb shelter and killed 408 civilians.


But certainly Suicide bombers are far worse with their archaic methodology and devil may care attitude, lets check…

When I studied the statistics here I found some rather startling information. Did you know that over the past 2 years nearly 50% of suicide bombers killed only themselves? In Afghanistan alone over the past two years some 90 would be assassins took only their own lives. Part of the reason might be found here:

Taliban spokesman Zabiyullah Mujahed recently claimed, “We do our best in our suicide attacks to avoid civilian casualties. These are our Muslim countrymen, and we are sacrificing our blood to gain their freedom. Their lives are important to us, of course. But fighting with explosives is out of the control of human beings.” Then he made an interesting admission that speaks to other factors that might explain the Afghan suicide bombers’ failure rate. He stated, “We have a problem with making sure they attack the right targets, avoiding killing civilians.”


Once again, to be fair, I’m certain if we spoke to the leaders of any of the previously mentioned civilian casualty disasters (including the ones inflicted by the “good guys”… AKA us), they would share this concern for hitting their military objectives and avoiding civilians. I’m not quoting the Taliban to defend them; I’m quoting them because I found a quote easily and quickly.

An ancillary argument to all of this, of course, is that everyone who dies in war is a civilian, some just happen to be carrying weapons when they are killed and others are not. In this paradigm, of course, it is simply the weapons that kill the most people that are the stupidest, regardless of whether those victims wear a uniform or not. I actually subscribe to this theory…

The bottom line, I believe is this. All violence, all war, and all methods of conducting either are stupid. You can try to classify them by degree if you like, but I feel it is pointless and a waste of time.

  • Fire bombing the city of Dresden was stupid and wrong.
  • Dropping atomic weapons on two cities in Japan was stupid and wrong.
  • Flying airplanes into buildings in New York and Washington DC was stupid and wrong.
  • Walking into a restaurant on the last day of Eid and blowing yourself up (along with 55 others) was stupid and wrong.

In each of the above instances the assailant had, in their mind, justifiable cause for their actions. In each of the above instances the victims and their families found the actions unconscionable and deplorable. In each of the above incidents most (or all, depending in your point of view) of the victims were civilians.

I guess when it comes down to it, my friend was wrong… I’m not intelligent enough to differentiate and categorize one form of violent behavior over another… It all sucks. Which is kind of what I thought she and I were talking about from the very beginning…

December 10, 2008

Five Easy Pieces…

Recently, I was asked by a friend (friend as defined as a Senior from one of the centers I do volunteer tech support for) to help him come up with a very quick list of five things to tell his estranged grandson when he visits.  He (the senior) is on his last leg as they say, and his daughter is bringing his grandson from New Jersey to visit him before he passes.  He wanted to pass on a few tips to his grandson, but because of the pressure of the situation and, to a lesser degree, his deprecated mental state, he couldn’t think of anything to say.  This was, of course, on the phone, impromptu, and brief, so he asked me for 5 tips.  Off the top of my head I gave him these…

Do not make a decision without considering how it will affect at least three other people – in other words, look for the unintended consequences. Everything you do in life effects others, keep that in mind and you can prevent a lot of heartache along the way. Frequently, when you take the time to see things from the perspective of others, you also wind up seeing that what seemed like a good thing for you really would not have worked out so well afterall.

Do not lie – this sounds simple and everyone says it, however, it’s not so much the effect on others I’m concerned about, it is the effect on you. When you lie you tell yourself that you are/were not good enough for the truth. If you do that enough, just like anything else, you will begin to believe it. Live a life worthy of the truth, and then speak honestly of it. PS it is also a bad thing to do to others.

When presented the choice between something you have done and something you haven’t, take the latter- Comfort can lead to complacency, while adventure tends to foster initiative. Further, people tend to travel in packs of interest, so if you delve into a new activity, you are likely to discover a whole new sub-culture, ripe with potential friends. I’m not saying you should never do things you know you enjoy, but make sure you carve out enough time for new things too.

Read, a lot – When you read, you do so many things that beyond simply enjoying a story. Your vocabulary is improved by reading words you do not know, or words that are used outside of the context in which you usually encounter them. Your deductive and reasoning skills are sharpened, not just in the act of anticipating where they plot will go, but in things as simple as determining what a word means in a particular context. You are also exposed to different perspectives on the world, which, if you are open to them, will help you tremendously in understanding and relating to the myriad of people you will meet throughout the course of your life.

Love – Love ridiculously. Make a fool out of yourself doing it. Express yourself in ways that your friends are sure to tease and taunt you about. Because if you do, someone will do the same for you… and you will never recover from it (in a good way, a really really good way)

Anything you’d like to add?

November 20, 2008

More Farfar…

Filed under: A life worth living,Conversations,Farfar,Just life — sbj @ 6:16 am

Most of my interactions with Farfar were centered on either having fun or being productive. The bulk of what I learned from him was practical. How to drive a nail, how to shingle a roof, how to field dress a deer, and things of that nature were the domain of Farfar.

Council was not his strong suit. Actually that’s not fair to say, I’m not sure if it was or not, it simply was not a big part of our interactions. However, based on one afternoon’s experience while hunting, it has occurred to me that in not having more deep and meaningful conversations with Farfar, I may have missed out on more than I realize.

I had returned early from the morning hunt and Farfar and I were working on setting up camp while my father stomped around in the woods. Dad was frequently out longer than I was… probably a big part of the reason he was the (much) more prolific hunter. I enjoyed hunting, but I also enjoyed getting back to camp and spending time with Farfar (and, let’s be honest, enjoying the fruits of his labor over the camp fire!).

One afternoon we were sitting in front of the fire and out of the blue he asked me who I was dating. I told him no one at the moment, but there was someone I had my eye on. He asked what I was waiting for, and I (honestly/foolishly?) responded that I didn’t think she would respond positively to my overture.

His reply, like so many of the things he said to me over the years, was short and to the point (I’m paraphrasing here, but it is very close)…

Remember this: rejection only hurts for a day or two, regret… is not so forgiving.

That single sentence changed my life from that day forward. Not as enabling, reckless and all encompassing as “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission”, it created a wonderful synergy between the “strike while the iron is hot” confidence of youth, and the “t’is better to have loved and lost…” knowledge that can only be gained from experience.

I became a better, more confident man on the mountain that day… although, I’m sure there are a decent number of women (if you have known me long enough, you can insert a “suit” joke here) who wish I had stayed out in the woods with my dad and missed that conversation altogether!! ;)

When I think of all the things I mightn’t have done over the years, without this one morsel of experience, I find myself once again overwhelmed with appreciation for a man who so simply and efficiently conducted the business of his life.

Thank you Farfar, I love you, and miss you terribly already…

March 28, 2008

Bigot? Savior? Reformer? Candidate? … Person

Filed under: Conversations,Observations — sbj @ 3:36 pm

Last night I had an interesting conversation (if you can call about 5 sentences a conversation). The person with whom I had my brief discourse was quite fanatical in his expression, which was the primary reason I did not engage him further. However I believe I got the crux of his argument in those few short sentences. The printable part of the exchange went like this:

noahdavidsimon: oh and also all those TWITTER $%##@^%’s that have been cheering this &^*$% on. Let me spell it out for you. OBAMA=BIGOT!

Sorenj: I’d love to hear that substantiated…

noahdavidsimon: talk to Reverend Wright. Watch the tapes. 30 years of church with the guy and never spoke out. Proof! OBAMA=BIGOT (about 9 hours ago)

Sorenj: hmmm, I was expecting a bit more substance… but, thanks for answering. Have a good night…

noahdavidsimon: your cooked OBAMA! 30 years of a church run by a bigot. YOU NEVER SPOKE OUT. Here is your experience &^%$#@! (about 9 hours ago)

At that juncture I took my leave of the conversation, it was pretty clear to me it was going to result in a flame war, and not a rational one. A couple of other people did pick up the fight, however, and because of that I discovered a blog entry that absolutely blew me away (go Queen of Spain!!) . That is not, however, the point of this entry.

Here is what that little micro-confrontation forced me to do; reconcile my post from yesterday about “heavier doors” with Obama’s decades long lack of a spoken position on Rev. Wright. I think it goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that when Obama did speak out on the issue, it was nothing short of brilliant. Constructive, pro-active and solution oriented, his speech was the most meaningful and actionable missive on race that I can remember.  At no point would I think the type of guilt by association thinking at play here is remotely valid.  I also think that it is beyond ridiculous to say that Mr. Obama is a bigot.

However, there is still the previous couple of decades to consider. Was Mr. Obama, by virtue of doing and saying nothing, perpetuating and enabling the acts he now vehemently renounces? Is/was he in need of the same conversation that I had to have in the hallway with my friend? These questions led to a couple of hours of tossing, turning, and mulling.

It’s probably important to point out that I have a certain level of ignorance when it comes to this issue. It is entirely possible that Mr. Obama has renounced this type of speech from his pastor before now, and I simply am unaware. I would love to find out that is the case, so if you are reading this and know better than I… please let me know!

In the interim I think I will choose to acknowledge that, in my opinion, he had a responsibility to address this issue earlier and I wish he had done so. However, to his credit he did handle it as close to perfectly as possibly when the issue forced itself onto the scene. In doing so, it is quite possible that he positively altered the path of bigotry and race relations forever, which certainly would not have happened had he addressed it earlier without the exposure of a Presidential election.

Not a bad days work… whether it was a few years tardy or not.

May 25, 2007


Filed under: Conversations,Just life,Observations — sbj @ 2:53 pm

Had an interesting conversation at the Y yesterday.  I was sitting with a few guys, all a bit younger than me with children between 1 and 2.  The topic was the “terrible twos” and they were bemoaning this “era”.  They asked me if it was better when they get older, and I had to give some serious thought to whether to tell them the truth or not (these guys were clearly looking for a confidence boost, not a reality check).

I went the honesty route, and said (in my best old beer commercial voice), “Boys, it just doesn’t get any better then this” (this being what they were going through).   they looked at me like I was crazy, especially when I told them of how the boys largely took care of themselves (Preston handling much of what Shahien cannot yet handle).  However, the truth is, as I told them… when you are dealing with a temper tantrum, you are dealing with the here and now.  Its like having one of those cool jobs we all had in High School… when you punch in you are working when you punch out… work ceases to exist (gads, remember that!!!!).  Once they get older, its a different ballgame.  The issue are “real” ones, decisions and actions taken will effect the rest of their lives.  Of course, it is a lot more rewarding as well.

As I told them, its the best, most intimidating, most rewarding, most terrifying, most delightful journey you will ever take.  Make the most of every minute of it, as you cannot get any of them back!!!

April 19, 2007


Filed under: Conversations — sbj @ 9:16 pm

I’m probably going to make some enemies with this, but, honestly, I do not care. I received this earlier today and felt the need to reply with some of my thoughts to each of the “points” contained within. I have put my initials by all of my responses as I’m not about passing my opinions around in secret. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have on my views, I have plenty to say on all of them!



This actually was never said by Andy Rooney, but I still do think whoever said it makes some very good points….

I don’t think being a minority makes you a victim of anything except numbers.

If only the basic logic of this statement would make its way through to everyone, minorities in the United States would not be victims because of the majority either. Unfortunately, too many people use this statement as a crutch against modifying their inappropriate behavior, rather than as the guideline it should be. -sbj

The only things I can think of that are truly discriminatory are things like the United Negro College Fund, Jet Magazine, Black Entertainment Television, and Miss Black America.
Try to have things like the United Caucasian College Fund, Cloud Magazine, White Entertainment Television, or Miss White America; and see what happens… Jesse Jackson will be knocking down your door.

This would actually be a good point, except for the victim issue raised above and the Boy/Girl Scouts issue used as an argument below… you can’t have it both ways… either exclusive clubs are okay, or they are not. -sbj

Guns do not make you a killer. I think killing makes you a killer. You can kill someone with a baseball bat or a car, but no one is trying to ban you from driving to the ball game.

The real question here is the abuse of guns and how to police it. I personally think restricting peoples rights to have guns is just a lazy mans solution, however I do not know of a good way to do this… I’m open to suggestion. -sbj

I believe they are called the Boy Scouts for a reason; that is why there are no girls allowed. Girls belong in the Girl Scouts!

I could not agree more on this one. I absolutely think any group of people should be able to get together with like minded people and form a private club. However, our government, public schools, or any other public entitys are not, nor should they ever be, nor should they act like private clubs. -sbj

I think that if you feel homosexuality is wrong, it is not a phobia, it is an opinion.

It might or might not be a phobia, it is certainly an opinion. However, the latter does not preclude the former, that is a case by case thing that is certainly true of some. -sbj

I have the right “NOT” to be tolerant of others because they are different, weird, or tick you off.

Absolutely true, so long as you do not infringe on their rights in doing so. Not being tolerant is fine, grabbing a bat (and a car???) and abusing them, however, is not a right. It’s that not so fine line that causes the problems. -sbj

When 70% of the people who get arrested are black, in cities where 70% of the population is black, that is not racial profiling; it is the Law of Probability.

Cute, but unless you live in Detroit (81%) this is simply not true, there are no major cities with that high a percentage (Baltimore is a distant second at 64%). The overall US population is 12% black, however the overall black prison population is disproportionate. Here are the facts, directly from the US Department of Justice “At yearend 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.” -sbj

I believe that if you are selling me a milkshake, a pack of cigarettes, a newspaper or a hotel room, you must do it in English! As a matter of fact, if you want to be an American citizen, you should have to speak English!

I think this is the first time I have actually seen a stupid argument for the national language thing. Hello????, we live in the United States, bill of rights mean anything to you, how about free enterprise. Just the stuff this country was founded upon, thats all. If you have the best damn milkshake, sell it speaking whatever language you want… as long as I’m allowed to buy it, I’m cool. Now, if you want to buy something from me, and we are in the United States… don’t try to make me speak your language, cause I’ll just sell it so someone else… same rules apply. -sbj

My father and grandfather didn’t die in vain so you can leave the countries you were born in to come over and disrespect ours.

Can’t stop laughing at this one, what did they “die in vain” for then??? If you are so fond of the english language learn how to use it!!!

I think the police should have every right to shoot your sorry butt if you threaten & fail halt after they tell you to stop. If you can’t understand the word “freeze” or “stop” in English, see the above lines.

I don’t even know where to start on this one… but I’m sure any combination of my previous comments should address it. -sbj

I don’t think just because you were not born in this country, you are qualified for any special loan programs, government sponsored bank loans or tax breaks, etc., so you can open a hotel, coffee shop, trinket store, or any other business.

Could not agree more. -sbj

We did not go to the aid of certain foreign countries and risk our lives in wars to defend their freedoms, so that decades later they could come over here and tell us our constitution is a living document; and open to their interpretations.

I have to admit, I missed this in the news… at least as stated, so I have no comment on this one either way. -sbj

I don’t hate the rich; I don’t pity the poor.

Yep, I’m with you on this one as well

I know pro wrestling is fake, but so are movies and television.
That doesn’t stop you from watching them.

I do not enjoy wrestling, boxing, NASCAR and many other things, however I fully support anyone who does. Do your thing, have a ball doing it, and leave me to enjoy my things as well.

I think Bill Gates has every right to keep every penny he made and continue to make more. If it ticks you off, go and invent the next operating system that’s better, and put your name on the building

Hell yeah… this guy is on a roll now. -sbj

It doesn’t take a whole village to raise a child right, but it does take a parent to stand up to the kid; and smack their little behinds when necessary, and say “NO!”

No a villiage is not required, however, it is valuable and will enhance the raising of the child… so why not sue what is there and do the best possible job for your child!??!??!?!? -sbj

I think tattoos and piercing are fine if you want them, but please don’t pretend they are a political statement. And, please, stay home until that new lip ring heals. I don’t want to look at your ugly infected mouth as you serve me French fries!

I’m with you right up until the first comma… after that its just a bunch of personal opinions which are great for you… but as discussed before, not within your rights to force on others. if you don’t like the way someone looks, move on. -sbj

I am sick of “Political Correctness.” I know a lot of black people, and not a single one of them was born in Africa ; so how can they be “African-Americans”? Besides, Africa is a continent. I don’t go around saying I am a European-American because my great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather was from Europe . I am proud to be from America and nowhere else.

Good for you, and when it becomes law for me to pray to your god and wear your clothes and eat yoru choice of foods, I guess it will also become important for me to identify myself as you do. Until then, check out the bill of rights… again. -sbj

I was asked to send this on if I agree or delete if I don’t. It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore I have a very hard time understanding why there is such a problem in having “In God We Trust” on our money and having “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don’t we just tell the 14% to Shut Up, lay down and BE QUIET!!!
I’m cool with the God stuff, and don’t understand the fuss, myself. -sbj

If you agree, pass this on, if not delete…

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