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May 13, 2010

Practically Perfect in Every Way…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , — sbj @ 8:26 pm

… or… more accurately: imperfect, in practically every way…

A few things about me…

  1. I procrastinate – Not nearly as much as many think, for I craftily disguise item #2 below as procrastination quite often; however, it happens often enough for it to be a problem.  I am pretty good with delayed gratification… unfortunately, I am equally adept at delayed dissatisfaction.  If I’m enjoying myself, I have a difficult time moving on to more unpleasant tasks.
  2. I am forgetful – This may well be my biggest downfall.  I make lists to combat it… and then forget to check the lists.
  3. I can be irrationally presumptuous – I know, right? Talk about the person who calls the person who calls the pot calling the kettle black…  black!!!  What did I just say????  It is sad but true, despite all of my protestations, all of my preachings, and all of my efforts, I often find myself getting my exercise for the day by jumping to conclusions.
  4. I am (probably) in denial – I don’t even know how many things I’m in denial about, because, of course, I refuse to accept them as existing.  Most likely I am in denial about my age… turns out, despite my behavior… I am in my 40′s (early 40′s, thank you!!!).
  5. I like attention – Yes, that does conflict with my “what you think of me is none of my business” mantra, but, underneath the wires and circuits, nuts and bolts, cpu’s and hard disks*… there is a person in here, just dying to get out and be heard! *for those of you who are just meeting me, I have spent years being called either a robot or an alien because of my… how shall I say… even temperament (see denial above :) ).
  6. Food is my primary vice – if I had a dollar for every dollar I spent on food, I’d be… uhm… hmmmm… never mind.  But seriously, far and away the largest detriment my budget, my discipline, my nutritional health et. al. is the time honored tradition of the lunch hour.
  7. I am a materialist – wrapped in a minimalists soapbox.  Not being wasteful is critical to me, and yet I live a lifestyle that could be far more sustainable and far less abusive to my environment, and worse, I continue to make the same bad decisions in that regard.  As much as I loath entitlement, there are creature comforts I am not willing to give up…

Having said all of that, there are a few things on which I like to hang my hat…

  1. I am improving – One of my personal goals is to be better tomorrow than I am today, and I approach each day as the proving/training ground for making that dream come true, over and over again… one day at a time.
  2. I care – I try to undertake everything I do with an eye for compassion and understanding.  I want to try to leave everything as good or better than I found it – including myself (certainly, I am not perfect in this goal… but I always try to keep it topmost in my mind).
  3. I am open to change – I am talking about personal change and growth here.  Being open to new ideas and different ways of viewing situations is a tool I try very hard to use with frequency and fervor.  The best way for me to achieve my number one goal of improving is to continue to grow and expand my bases of knowledge and understanding.  No one knows everything – the more I am able to prove this to myself, the better off I will be.
  4. I try to be aware – This one is difficult.  it requires looking inward, often, and working on the imperfections I see.  In my personal experience, it is far easier to try to fix other peoples problems than to work on my own; However, the real work and benefit (to myself and others) is in self-discovery and awareness.

So there you go… a little bit (lot) more than you wanted to know, probably, but… hey… its my blog, and as documented (See #5) above… I’m a glory grabber right? ;)

May 12, 2010

Freedumb

Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — sbj @ 9:31 pm

The opening scene of Idiocracy has always cracked me up.  It’s that scary kind of funny though, because, it (or something like it) could actually happen.  In fact, in a different way, I kind of think it is happening.

The land of the free is in trouble… that’s trouble spelled h-y-p-e-r-b-o-l-e.  We are being “dumbed down” one grandiose, yet remarkably obscure, reference at a time. So as not to be confused with or accused of doing the same, I will explain.

Democrats are “socialists;” Republicans are “fascists,” we all “know” (meaning, we all have heard) this.  However, when pressed on the point very few people are actually able to substantiate their sweepingly general claims.  I have recently begun asking people what they mean when they say such things, and the overwhelming response is something to the effect of “it’s obvious, how can you not see it” which, of course, actually says nothing.  Or worse, they offer absolute fiction in response.

And that’s the problem…

We, as a nation, are becoming less and less informed and more and more susceptible to “fluff” and “propaganda” every day.  The more we allow simple vague concepts to form our opinion on important issues, the more vulnerable we are to being led.

Completely false or intentionally misleading email propaganda pieces are being passed around as fact, and those “facts” are being inserted into daily dialog and becoming “facts.” These emails take about 5 minutes of research to debunk with credible sources, however people continue to blindly pass them along without any vetting at all.

As dangerous (in fact probably moreso) are what I call “factional messages” (fact wrapped in fiction).  This is where a ribbon of fact is woven through a web of misinformation or speculation to create a new and completely different set if circumstances.  Because the small sample of fact can be confirmed, or may actually be common knowledge, people believe the entire construct around it to be true as well.

Further, it is apparently bad form to let someone know they are passing around a false statement.  Three times in the past month I did what I thought to be a favor for a friend.  They were forwarding information that was incorrect, so I let them know (completely with citations) what the actual facts were… with a nice note explaining how I’d certainly like to know if I was saying something that was wrong, and figured they would like the same courtesy (cause… it’s better to hear it from a friend, right?).

Nope, I was read the riot act each time.

I surveyed my social network with the following question “unofficial poll – Can you name a freedom that is uniquely present in the United States, some freedom we alone enjoy?”  From Plurk (115 friends) I received a handful of responses (more on the few responses I did get momentarily); from Facebook (117) one response; Twitter (601) and Google Buzz (31)… crickets (to be fair, I got one Gchat response that was to the twitter query, so twitter was not technically completely shut out).

Lets talk about the results I did get from that “survey.”  I’ll take them one at a time (in the order I received them), because, well there are few enough of them to do so.

  • Due Process – Due process was actually established in England.  The term was first used verbatim in a statutory version of the Magna Carta in 1354.  Due process is a right currently held in many countries.
  • The right to carry arms – This is also an English carry over, from the English BIll of Rights of 1689, and is also enjoyed in many other nations today.
  • *Freedom from adequite state-sponsored health care (this may or may not be the case, but is clearly not a serious answer)
  • *Freedom from a well-run state-funded education (ibid)
  • Freedom of religion – This has been a freedom globally, in various forms and fashions, for centuries.
  • Freedom of expression without government interference – Once again, this freedom goes back at least to the English Bill of Rights in 1689 (like the right to bear arms and others above, it may go back further, this is just the information I happen to know off hand)
  • *Asshattery (yes, that is a quote)
  • *Entitlement
  • Freedom to ask such a question – While vague, I’m pretty sure this one is meant to be freedom of speech/expression… see above, or, English Bill of Rights, 1689.
  • *For all our blustering about how “free” we are, our populace is pretty well hobbled (unless you’re rich).

Clearly, half of these responses (the ones indicated by asterisks) were sarcastic.  This is telling, in and of itself, because not a single person who contributed a wise crack balanced it with a serious response.  Note, though, that not one of the responses (at least the serious ones) are actually a correct answer to the question…. not one.

Obviously, there is nothing scientific about this survey, or its results; it is what it is, and… isn’t.

The bottom line, though, is that people are willing to fight and sacrifice for the idea of freedom*, and it appears (from the “survey” above and numerous individual conversations) a measurable portion of these folks either don’t know what “freedom” actually is or have a distorted view of how it applies to their own country.

*This is where I would say, if I were going to contribute that that which I am pontificating against, “Patriot Act anyone???” … a completely unsubstantiated pot shot at Bush et. al. based on what I know has been planted in peoples minds regarding the Patriot Act.

I’m not blaming the people… garbage in equals garbage out.  Political campaigns, advertisements and media coverage has become a blur of stereotypes and hyperbolic sound bites.  The ever decreasing attention span of the typical U.S. citizen demands executive summaries; and executive summaries lend themselves to judgmental errors.

Yesterday I saw this from Roger Ebert (yes, that Roger Ebert) on Twitter: “Josh reminds me: If we went back to what the Founding Fathers wanted, as Sarah Palin desires, she wouldn’t be able to vote.”  Funny, and, taken literally it is true; however, clearly that is not what Sarah Palin wants*, and for my money, Roger knows it; he is, I believe, deliberately using paradoxical irony to make a point.

*Did I just defend Sarah Palin… somebody shoot me now!!! (yep, that was another “softer” example, guilt by association with Sarah Palin, and if I’m guilty for being associated with her, clearly… she must be bad).

It is a funny and effective way to make a point, however, increasingly, I don’t think it is “safe.”  More and more I hear people parroting things that are clearly wrong, misleading, or simply misunderstood.  But these things are being repeated as gospel and used as foundations for reasoned debates.

The bottom line is that people are becoming less and less able to discern fact from hyperbole and in a world where buzz words and catch phrases are being propagating at an alarming rate, that has got to be a cause for concern.

I included the two passages in bold above for a reason.  Those are things I would normally be completely inclined to say while composing this blog, or in conversation.  In other words I am directing this at myself as much as anyone else.

I believe it is time to get back to factual straight shooting.  We, as a nation and as individuals have to challange ambiguity when we see or hear it, and demand information.  When the facts are not provided, we need to treat it as a personal responsibility to seek accurate answers out for ourselves.  We need to fact check, debunk, and most importantly reject propaganda.

It will be boring, and droll, and seem like a waste of time, but, when you think about what is at stake… how can it not be your top priority*.

*Yep, one more for the road – a vague intimidating yet undefined consequence meant to call you to action out of fear.

For the big finish, I would normally put another clip (or at least a reference) from idiocracy here, but, instead I will simply say this…

I believe that the more informed you are, the better prepared you are.  It’s the reason firemen do drills putting out staged fires, football teams practice all week for one game, actor rehearse their lines over and over again, etc. etc. etc.  The better prepared you are, for anything, the better you will perform when the time comes (especially if it involves facing adversity). By the same token, any coach, general, or director will tell you that the more bad or “mis” information you have, the less effective you will be.

If you are reading this blog, you have the ability to fact check and inform yourself, my advice to you (and me) is… make use of it.

******

ps… none of this is to say that the people who responded don’t know what they are talking about.  I have surrounded myself with very sharp friends.  When I was talking of the disconnect, I was more refering to the lack of response per capita than the quality fo the responses I did get :)

May 7, 2010

1.8 million divorcee’s can’t be wrong…

Filed under: Observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — sbj @ 3:21 pm

The other night, in a little online debate, it was thrust (repeatedly) in my face that in the past few years the number of states that have outlawed same sex marriage has gone from zero to 30.  This was somehow supposed to make me think that the idea of same sex marriage is dying painful and protracted death, and soon will be a non-issue.  It was meant to make me think the people passing those laws were right, and support continues to grow in that direction.

Kinda like the Jim Crow laws, and the Dred Scott decision did, right?

The bottom line is that legislation is passed and court cases are won far more often on the last legs of an outdated tradition than in the dawning of a new era of strength and vitality for said laws.  People don’t pass laws protecting the sanctity of anything that is healthy and strong, they pass them to protect “institutions” that are weak and vulnerable.

There is argument to be made that traditional marriage is weak in our society.  Divorce rates continue to be alarmingly high compared to pre-80′s numbers (contrary to popular belief, they do not continue to climb, per capita, and are actually lower than they were a decade or two ago – the 80′s were brutal, but we have gradually – albeit very slowly – gotten better since then).  Second, third and even fourth marriages remain common.  I know people who have had more spouses than automobiles in their life time.

Roughly 1.8 million people get divorced each year.  Through the 1930′s the ratio of marriages to divorces was about 10:1, from the 40′s through the mid 70′s it was closer to 5:1, and since then it has idled around 2:1 (which is where the statistic of half of all marriages endign in divorce comes from). With a measurable percentage of its practitioners seemingly using an “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” approach, the status of marriage as an “institution” also seems somewhat in question.

People rush headlong into marriage these days with barely a moments thought.  Consider this couple who married 17 hours after meeting at a bar in Vegas.  I’m not going to say that their marriage will fail, because, luck does happen.  However, luck should never be confused with a reason or supporting argument for a bad decision.

I have never been so “in love” as I have been *over and over again* 17, 24, 48, 72 hours into a relationship.  It is exciting, invigorating, and, frankly, most often, a load of shit (pardon my French).  Love and relationships are built over time, as trust is built, as commonalities are established, as little personality clashes are acknowledged and worked through. The bottom line is, if you want to remove luck (or as much of it as possible) from the equation, relationships require a solid foundation, and that requires time and experience (with each other).

After that, it requires commitment.  Real text book commitment.  I remember listening to marriage ceremonies when I was young and dozing or scoffing at the “this will take work” part of the ceremony.  I mean how tough can it be to spend a bunch of time with someone you love… and… get someone else to make half the money and do half the chores (and don’t even get me started about a teenagers perspective on the sex)!!!

The reality, though, is that It can be tough… very very tough. Getting beyond those rough patches requires a focus on the end game, a long term view, and a capacity for delayed gratification (something not exactly endemic in our current immediate satisfaction culture).

This is not meant to bash marriage, I am, in fact, a fan.  However, I do believe, as an “institution,” it is in dire need of repair; far more so than it is in need of protection.  We seem to have a general population that is more interested in protecting it than in making it worth protecting, and nothing good can come of that.

The fact is, marriage itself (as opposed to same-sex marriage) could wind up dying a (slow and) painful death (at least in regard to significance) from within, and, if people don’t start focusing on that, the so-called external threat is not going to matter.

(note: full disclosure, my personal beliefs regarding the marriage issue, apart from the above, are that from a legislative standpoint, all rights, privildeges etc. afforded to a multi-sex couple should be extended too a same-sex couple.  I don’t care what it is called (i.e “protecting” or “reserving” the term “marriage” is fine with me), but legally the same rights should exist.  From a spiritual standpoint, I don’t believe it is anyone’s business but the couple involved and their creator if they have beliefs that support such third party involvement :) )

May 4, 2010

Honestly, I think I’ll go with the Hamster…

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , , — sbj @ 3:32 pm

As I recently alluded to, I dumped tv a while back.  Yes, yes, I still cheat and watch Lost and Flash Forward online…. but other than that and the occasional NCAA game I’m done with tv.

One of my biggest problems with tv is that it has become more about the noise and less about the cause of the noise.

We hear all about people protesting this and that; we even hear their (more often than not) incoherent and unthought out reasons for protesting.  However, we seldom here good objective debate on the thing being protested itself.  Debate by professionals or experts in the field, exchanging ideas and solutions rather than barbs and rhetoric.

To be fair, while a growing segment of the entertainment on television has become a hedonistic glimpse in to the most base “cultural” values of our society, there is still quality entertainment tv available.  I just have a hard time justifying spending that much time in that medium.  I’d rather be doing something (but that’s a personal choice, I recognize that).

In the face of a dwindling amount of what I considered viable entertainment, and a near abyss of news and discussion, several years ago, I turned to the internet as my primary source of information.  However, more and more I am finding the Internet falling prey to the same trends.  Where once I found insightful in depth reporting, I now find an increasing number of video sound bites.  Between thirty seconds and two minutes of some “expert” telling me what they think about a situation; a glorified letter to the editor.

The reason for this, I suspect, is no different than what has happened to television.  It is becoming limited because of a mandate to entertain.  The audience and advertisers demand entertainment and refuse to be bored; the networks (including the Internet) have no alternative but to deliver.

For sports news, I used to follow ESPN on the web.  Now I almost never do, because of the percentage of their articles that are not actually stories but rather sound bites by someone famous (or who used to be marginally famous) and therefore presumably worth listening to.

During the NCAA tournament I read (listened to) all the predictions by all of the experts, and scanned their brackets in an attempt to gain some insight.  But, there really wasn’t much substance there.  Once again, just a series of opinions based on feelings and gut reactions.

Still these are *expert* gut reactions… right?

Well… a guinea pig won the college pick ‘em this year… so… how clever are these folks… really?  Not one of them beat the guinea pig.  I didn’t either, of course, but, I wasn’t giving advice, I was seeking it.

Perhaps my mistake, not unlike those who go to The Daily Show or Fox for news, was trying to find enlightenment from within a vehicle of entertainment.

I’m making up my mid-term election “bracket” as we speak, now all I need, is a hamster…

May 3, 2010

Razing Arizona

Filed under: Observations — Tags: , , , — sbj @ 11:03 pm

Thank goodness for the clear head of Arizona’s Governor! Now, the racial profiling that is soon to become rampant in Arizona will not be based upon race. Wait… what? Hmmm…

New legislation in Arizona makes it a state (as opposed to federal) crime to be in Arizona without proper immigration papers. Further, it requires police to determine whether people are in the country legally and allows for penalties should a resident successfully sue the police over lack of enforcement.

For a moment, I’m going to ignore the golden opportunity that I appear to have missed over the years; suing the police department for not making sure each and every citizen is not a rapist, burglar, murder or jay walker (or at least ensuring that every perpetrator of such crimes is brought to justice).

I’m also going to spare you my usual “Immigrants (pot) calling the immigrants (kettle) unwelcome (black)” shtick as well. Instead I’m going to jump into the heart of the matter…

This whole thing, to me, smacks of two of history’s less savory moments:

We are supposed to be better than this.

We are supposed to have learned from history.

Why did I have to be assaulted, at far to young an age (is there an appropriate age, really?), by the horrors of German concentration camps, stacks of rotting corpses, human lab animals etc., if we, as a society, were not going to learn the lessons contained within that material?

Why was I forced to digest and understand the concepts of mass panic and delusion that led to the Salem witch hunts, if it was not to prepare me and the rest of my countrymen against such maniacal behavior in the future?

We are supposed to be better than this.

I can hear the collective groans of some of my readers now. I’ve gone too far with these comparisons, I lose you when I get all fanatical, we have a real illegal alien problem, and if the federal government had taken care of it years ago the states (especially border states) would not be put in this desperate situation etc. etc. etc.

Well some of those claims may be right. They all have at least enough merit to have a conversation; however, none of them address my real concern. When you mandate police action, and measurable results for which the police departments are accountable, you introduce something other than simple public service into the mix.

Originally the statute stated that race could not be used “solely” as a factor leading to suspicion, however it could be a contributing factor. With one deft stroke of his mighty pen, the Governor changed all that; removing the word solely, and thus stating that race is not permitted to be a factor in becoming suspicious about a persons immigration status.

Exactly what, then, are they going to use to arouse suspicion at this point? They have to do something, because, well, it is mandatory… or they are going to get sued by citizens because police are not enforcing the law.

Language? If you are, say, speaking Spanish… perhaps then we need to see your papers?

Perhaps we will profile by appearance of poverty, or by what kind of work one does?

58.4% of Arizona’s population is reported to be white non-Hispanic, 30.1% Hispanic or Latino. Should we expect no more than 30% of inquiries to be of Latinos (or no less than 50% to be of whites)? Or, is it probably a touch more realistic to expect racial profiling… implicit in the legislation or not?

And therein lies the rub. From here, this law almost mandates selective and racially motivated screening. I’m not saying the intent is bad, or that the police departments involved are corrupt or bigoted. Rather I’m simply saying the legislation has tied their hands, creating an inevitable state of civil rights inequity.

I completely agree that there exists a problem with illegals, those who do not contribute to the system (pay for emergency services etc. via taxes), and who, nonetheless, consume the benefits of these services (it is a problem, by the way, similar to the homeless and indigent problems faced by our cities and counties). I just happen to think there must be solutions to this problem that do not involve compromising the integrity of our police departments and the implication of potential guilt on a measurable portion of our legal and productive citizenry.

How Not to Act Old

Filed under: The Bookshelf — sbj @ 5:56 am

How Not to Act Old by Pamela Redmond Satran

I should clarify something up front, this is not a book I have ever read cover to cover.  In fact, I’m quite sure I have not read the entire thing.  It is a “bathroom reader” at my house.  In a stack of books I rotate through my bathroom for… how to say… “idle moments.”

I have picked up this book more than a few times and flipped to a random page for short and mildly entertaining quips of advice from one middle aged person clinging to their youth (the author) to another (well… me).  However, before today, it had never really done more than its intended purpose, help pass a few otherwise lifeless moments of time.

Today though, as fortune would have it, I flipped to a page entitled “Don’t be the Ricky.”  The blurb goes a little something like this:

“The next thing you know you’re the Ricky.  You’re yelling and screaming and cursing and threatening.  You’re managing the money and blowing your top when the credit card is maxed out and the cell phone bill is through the roof.

Meanwhile your Lucy, your Homer, your Han, is wandering around in a daze, buying yellow shoes, and auditioning for Broadway shows and befriending wookies.  So tell me, who do you want to be: the screaming check-writer or the starry-eyed, golden-shoed, wookie-lover?”

When it comes to avoiding the AARP label, I think the point here is pretty obvious.  There is also, I think, a deeper lesson here, however.  More important than perhaps appearing to be a decade younger than you are… there are proven health benefits to living a life with reduced stress.  Study after study has shown that reducing stress helps reduce health risks (suck and risk of heart attack) and extends life expectancy.

So, take a page (literally) from this otherwise average tome, learn it and then live it.  You not only might wind up living longer, but enjoying that life more as well.

… and if you happen to get carded a few more times alone the way… even better!

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