Monday, November 14, 2016

Labels Cause Division - Enough is Enough

I used to speak very openly against harsh racist/sexist rhetoric. It seemed that anyone and everything was called racist or sexist even in many cases that hadn't a shred of evidence. Mentioning so only ever proved my "white privilege" in the eyes of those spewing such rhetoric. I would then be called racist and sexist myself trying to disguise myself as an advocate of equality. I tried to fight on the side of reason and understanding and it yielded only false accusations and hate in my direction. I remember it being quite frustrating and even to the point of anger. I wrote out a detailed record of my upbringing showing just how much integration and non-racism I grew up with here in hopes to prove my lack of racism and worthiness to have an opinion:

At some point, however, I gave in. I decided that even though I cannot see the racism around me due to my "privilege" (despite hating the use of that word in such a way), it must indeed still be a problem elsewhere. Riots and shootings and what-have-you showed the racial tensions and proved that it was a problem. I decided that indeed we need to do more and just maybe I was wrong about it not being a huge deal. I drank the same Kool-Aid as all the other progressives and noted every external racial injustice as proof of the tensions that I could not personally see. Part of this switch had a lot to do with the fact that I clearly identify Republicans as wrong about so many other things--so why not assume they're likely wrong about this issue too? Further, I saw Trump's victory as solidifying it. Clearly he was a racist, sexist, xenophobic bigot and therefore so much of the country must be fine with this and we obviously have a problem.

But what is the truth? The truth can be extremely difficult to determine. There clearly is some kind of tension and problem, but where does it truly stem from? I found myself labeling Trump supporters as racist, sexist, xenophobes for even contemplating Trump for president. I became one of the very people that I tried discrediting for so long. But why? Because of the media I consumed. I saw so much rhetoric about Trump's racism and sexism that I could not see it any other way. It became so obvious to me that I could not fathom anyone being so awful of a person as to vote for him. The media convinced me so thoroughly of Trump's incompetence that it polarized my view against him and his supporters. I became quite angry to the point of wishing I had someone or something to lash out against. In short, the media took away my reason and turned me into one of the illogical zombies I used to try to reason with.

Which got me thinking... How much of the tension we see today is actually due to the media trying to prove a problem exists? If they make enough people convinced and angry, it will create a bigger problem itself. It made me angry, hateful, and spiteful when before I was being very careful, collected, and thoughtful while seeing both sides of issues. Minority groups are absolutely terrified now due to Trump's win and whose fault is that? The media made him out to be such a racist that we expect him to deport and destroy all minorities and let the KKK rise up and rule our country. Their fear and our compassion for them now leads us to hate and violently protect or protest. It makes us want to make our own voice louder and more clear and fight the "haters." I imagine that many of the anonymous acts of hate and vandalism in the name of Trump might very well be leftists trying to make him look worse and "prove" just how bad Trump and his followers are. There's really no way of knowing, but that doesn't stop us from point the finger with accusatory labels.

So what is the truth? I can't really say. I only know my own little bubble and the rhetoric I hear from the media. The media might be creating its own problems, so it's hard to truly trust what I see. Clearly there is some kind of problem, but the root cause is far too intricate and complicated for me or anyone to comprehend from their home. In such a regard, perhaps it is best that I simply mind my own business. The racism going on in Ferguson, for example, has nothing to do with me. The racism in my own home town (which seems non-existent where I live) is my own business which apparently needs little to no change. If I worry about my own and everyone else worries about their own, then perhaps we can better get down to truth. Those in Ferguson know exactly what's going on in Ferguson and only they can make it better. But even for them, I wonder how much they're feeding on the media to make them disproportionately angry or even making the police disproportionately fearful. We're not seeing things through our own lenses but through the lenses of a hyped and hysterical fear-mongering media.

The concept of keeping to self actually scares me, however, since I don't want to ignore the plight of others. But without full knowledge, I could just as easily make matters worse rather than improving them. If I want to help Ferguson, I should probably move to Ferguson. As it is, I do not live there and I should probably focus on my own affairs. This is probably best seen as a general concept, however, rather than a hard-fast rule. Things like Global Warming affect everyone everywhere and I certainly cannot see it here in my little corner. This, however, has some clear data. Temperature averages are entirely objective. Amount of racism is entirely subjective. So if I see something racist or sexist, it becomes my responsibility to stop that crap in its tracks, but if I don't see it, I can't hardly think any longer that I need to personally do something.

The fact is, the world is filled with people and unfortunately, lots of people suffer. I cannot solve every problem and likely I cannot personally solve any problem. I have the greatest chance only at home. On top of this, there are those who clearly use our compassion for their own gains who create companies and organizations to fuel our flames and take our money when we try to help. By getting so inflamed and trying so hard to advocate for these "poor souls" that we know nothing about, we very well might be creating more problems than we resolve. If we want to support such causes because it seems better than doing nothing, then fine, but we should probably leave the anger, hate, and rhetoric out of it. I think we're being played, and the rich are benefiting from our fighting against one another. If we're truly concerned about people, then we should first concern ourselves with our tongues and how we treat those around us. We know very little of what we think we know, and others think they know things quite differently than what we think we know. It is nearly impossible to judge. So we should focus on kindness all around and fix what is in our immediate field of view. In such a way, we are far less likely to be controlled by media and become a pawn of hate and division.

All that said, I'm really still wondering about Trump. There were so many things that pointed to him as a terrible person and the only thing I even know about Hillary were her emails to which she had been thoroughly examined and found entirely innocent. But again, that's just the media I watch. I know for a fact that there were far worse things mentioned when Bernie was running against her. My memory is simply too short to remember what those were. She is just as much "the man" as any politician before her and Trump is anything but. He may be a terrible person in many ways, but he's not "the man" as far as we know. In such a way, I'm rather interested in what will truly happen. Will he fill the role that everyone is crying about? Or will he actually do something to break our corrupt system? Who knows. And with the media I see, it's awfully hard to tell. As it is now, they're continue their rhetoric that he's assigning white nationalists and whatever else into power and we should all fear for our lives and the lives of minorities. But again, the left is quite prone to false labels and over exaggeration. So I don't know what to believe anymore. They cried wolf too many times and my ears are beginning to ignore such cries.

At any rate, no matter how terrible Trump is or might be, I take comfort in remembering that the vast majority of people who voted for him did so for legitimate reasons and concerns beyond hate. And if the other half of the country can't see that, then I'm going to have to say that they, themselves, are the problem. But if they can see it, then we have a platform for common ground. We need to stop fighting each other and instead start agreeing everywhere we see the chance to agree. If we do that, then Trump doesn't matter at all. The people will rule and Trump will follow. We have a lot of people who care, but they need to learn proper manners and to stop vilifying the rest of the world. Otherwise, we will simply become all the more polarized for practically no reason and things will devolve even further into hate when we could instead make some significant progress.

In short, enough with the labels already. The labels only make things worse. When someone is labeled, their ears close off and conversation is impossible. If we truly want to do some good, then we absolutely must stop labeling. The reason we got the polls so wrong, I imagine, is because all the labels were shutting people up so that they did not feel free to speak except in the closed, private, voting box. Labels have got to go.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lessons From Trump

I have been wrestling with my thoughts since the election like so many others. A lot of Trump supporters are now getting a lot of flack which they likely had not been getting in such heavy doses before. Because, quite frankly, we all saw him as a giant joke with no chance in hell of winning. But he did, and now we are pissed and scared shitless. We were proven oh so wrong and we are absolutely stunned by this outcome.

I am now finding a lot of Trump supporters taken aback as if they voted for their favorite candy and now they are being yelled at for it. They do not understand why they are so suddenly being maligned and hated--why everyone thinks they're racist, sexist, xenophobic, bigoted haters. They are confused much like we are. Most of them think we are overreacting. And yes, some of us certainly are. But it is extraordinarily hard not to be in these circumstances. Trump supporters just don't see what they've just unleashed.

Before listing out the detriment for Trump supporters to understand, I'd like to start with why people voted for Trump to begin with. It is not because they are racist or sexist even though Trump brings such people out of the weeds. This is an entirely ignored side effect from Trump supporters which shows only their priorities, not their racism or sexism.

Here is why people voted for Trump:

Because he is Republican.
This is more complicated than the surface looks. Republicans now own the House, Senate, and President. They didn't vote for "Trump" with their vote, they voted for Republican domination. For republicans, this is a good thing. For the rest of us, God have mercy!

Because of Abortion
We need to stop the rhetoric that they are anti-women for being anti-abortion. They are not convinced by our false labels and it makes us look stupid. They are anti-abortion because they truly are convicted that it is murder. By labeling them with such colorful language, they got pissed for being so demeaned and rose against us. They do not see it from the perspective that women should get to "choose" to kill babies and they are continually told lies within their bubbles that babies are aborted on the day of delivery. Thus, to them, this is hugely important.

Because He's a Businessman
In their logic, our country needs a businessman to get us out of debt. Trump is a businessman. Therefore, he'll get us out of debt. Obviously this ignores a lot of problems: he's not by any means a good businessman, he's got a conflict of interest as a businessman, and he plans to give cuts to the wealthiest in the nation thus making our economy worse. But hey, a bad logic is better than "I want the racist!"

Because of Obamacare
For some people, the cost of healthcare has become insane. They cannot afford their premiums and their out of pockets. They did not trust that Hillary would fix this and in fact would "expand" up on it. Hillary offered no details on how she would make it better. She simply said she'd keep what worked and fix what didn't and Trump at least offered to abolish it which is a guaranteed fix for them. It adversely hurts many other people, of course, but people will look after their own first. Hard to care about the poor when you yourself are not making it in the middle class.

Because He's Not Establishment
He's not "bought out" by giant corporations. Yes, this ignores that he is in and of himself a giant corporation. They didn't get that far in the math, I guess. They, like us, are sick of big money in the white house and they thought he would stop it. The Democratic party screwed us over by screwing over Bernie who would have been the non-establishment choice and perhaps would have gotten some Trump votes for himself. They messed with the program and they burned us. We should be more pissed at them than anyone else at this point.

Because of Immigration
People see our country failing and they incorrectly attribute the waste to the poor who get things for free without working--especially those who are not citizens. This is not true, of course, but it's what they think and it makes sense as a baseline assumption of one-depth logic. Because of it, they think that deportation will fix it. Of course, this ignores that illegal immigrants are actually paying more taxes than people like Donald Trump, but it's not because they're xenophobic that they want them deported.

Because they Are Racist, Sexist, Xenophobic, Bigots
Some people truly did vote for this reason, I am sure, but so many Trump voters likely fell into one or more of the above without considering the effect he might have in this manner. These haters are now acting out because they think it is okay given that half the country voted for their racist man. They are mistaken, of course, that they were at all trying to uplift this kind of behavior. The fact is, they did not see this as big of a deal as it really is. And how could they? They're not living it and when they talk about it, they are immediately labeled with false colorful language that pisses them off and encourages them to fight back. And fight back they did.

Why We Are Devastated

Global Warming
Whether or not you believe this to be occurring, we of the left certainly do believe it. It is not a matter of opinion to us. All the facts point this way. The only hoax comes from fossil fuel companies who benefit from not switching to renewable energy. There is a catastrophic risk in not dealing with this. So much damage is already done and more will be done if we do not move quickly. We don't have 4 years to wait for Trump to screw with it. This is (or should be) #1 priority and we cannot afford a denying president. This is not paranoia, it is 100% real. Please oh please do some research on it.

Our economy is not sustainable as it is. I know this is why people voted for Trump, but the fact is that he will make it worse. He has proven time and again that he is the most important thing on his mind. From not paying his contractors, using donations to buy paintings of himself, from sexually assaulting others, and being openly racist in his rental dealings. He is not in favor of the rest of us and he is himself a giant corporation. We have zero faith that he will make things better and has an unfortunate ability to bring us into a great depression. We only barely escaped it in 2009 but we only bought ourselves time. The problem was not resolved. Trump could very well collapse it single-handedly.

We've been at war for some time, yes, but Trump is a very trigger-happy man with a set of nuclear codes at his disposal. While many glibly say, "Ah, hell, just nuke 'em!" Trump might very well do just that. He is very unstable, selfish, and foolish. And even if he doesn't make the call, it is clear that Russia's Putin is very excited for Trump as president. Either he and Trump are friends, or Putin plans on using the advantage of a foolish president to pull some crazy shit. We want to prevent crazy people from having automatic rifles, but we just gave nukes to a hateful, ill-tempered man. This is a very dangerous situation.

Whether or not one believes it is a sin for a boy to like boys or a girl to like girls, there is a huge problem in how America treats such people. The LGBTQ community and other minorities are mistreated in so many ways that they often live in fear. Electing Trump, whether or not you are a hater yourself, has already unleashed a flurry of attacks. With such a leader as Trump, they feel free to express their hatred far more openly than ever before. This has created a hole of intolerance and made the lives of so many people far more dangerous than before.

We've been trying so hard to make sure that everyone has an equal chance at success. Not everyone does. This is disproportionately affecting minorities and women. Whatever you think the reasons are, it is a mere fact that the discrepancy exists. I think we've done a terrible job by labeling people and throwing the word racism around like candy at a parade, but it is in fact a reality. And this reality is becoming all the more apparent specifically due to racism and sexism that is now seen as appropriate because a racist and sexist was voted into the white house. Our efforts at equality will now be stunted, but hopefully we can overcome anyway.

What I've Learned

I Was Right - We Are Jerks
I was correct in thinking that the language used by the left was detrimental. We unleashed this upon ourselves with accusatory word-choice. And we keep right on doing it even now. We cannot throw around accusations of racism, sexism, and so on without the opponent getting sick and tired of it. I know just how easily those words are thrown around because I am an advocate who has been so accused many times myself. We need to calm the f&#* down and get our act together peaceably.

Education is oh So Important
The common denominator in all our problems is lack of concise argumentation and ability to use logic. People think with so many things other than their brains. Some think with their reproductive organs, some with their sphincters, and others with their eyes. We need to think logically and critically before we kill each other in a rage. The problem, however, is that so many of us are incapable of logical thought. We do not teach logic in school and we do not teach the psychology of our brains that leads to poor conclusions. This needs to change.

We Really Need Voting Reform
We are fed up with voting for two parties. Our current system requires that we do by nature of requiring a majority and allowing only one vote. It is an ancient and easily corruptable system. It must go. We need this:

I Don't Know What to Do
This is the biggest pill to swallow. I know what's wrong, I know what things outside my power would fix it, but I lack the skills necessary to make a change at my level. I've been saying these things for so long. I've been kind, patient, and understanding in my explanations and dealings with people hoping to spread it around but people don't get it. Maybe it's still making its rounds, but it did not save us from this mess. Like this post, I am sure only a few will read it and certainly no one will share it if it follows all my other endeavors. I am at my wits end trying to figure out how to impact a culture. I'm a nobody. It does not seem like it's up to me. I am not the motivational speaker you're looking for. So what do I do? Give up? Keep trying? I don't know. I don't know what is my role in all of this. I just know the problem and the big-picture solutions with nothing to do with any of it but cry. Hopefully someone else with more clout and money can do the right thing and get the rest of the masses mobilized for good.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Would Jesus Be a Republican or a Democrat?

Ignoring the obvious silliness of such a question, I think it is high time to look at the values in each party and align them with the words of Jesus. I say this because I find it quite strange that Christians so often align with Republicans rather than with Democrats. When I think of the Republican agenda, I immediately think of the following. Granted, this is not conclusive and is just my opinion, but these are the hot ticket items I always see being fought for via memes and outcries.

1. They want to keep their guns
2. They want to end abortion
3. They want marriage to be only between a man and a woman
4. They want to stop the poor from abusing government provisions
5. They want to keep our borders tight.
6. They want to extradite illegal aliens.

When I think of Democrats, these are the issues that come to mind:

1. They want to help and support the poor and struggling
2. They want to preserve our planet and prevent our destroying it
3. They want women to be able to choose whether or not to remain pregnant
4. They want to provide support for those coming to our borders
5. They want to provide amnesty to illegal immigrants.
6. They want fair treatment of all races, genders, and lifestyles

Of these issues, there is a fairly stark contrast. The Republicans are 2/3 about "me" and 1/3 what they don't want others doing. Only one of those can even pretend to care about others and that is in ending abortion where they pretend to care about the baby. I say pretend, because they care nothing for the baby once it is born. They do not want their tax dollars supporting those who cannot afford to care for their children. But they want their guns for their own hunting and protection, they want others to have sex the way they permit, they want to stop wasting money on the lazy poor folks, and they want to keep themselves safe from a presumed threat of immigrants.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are 6/6 on issues of caring for others. Granted, the abortions is the only one that can appear not to care about babies, but I assure you it is 100% in the interest of the mother and of society at large. They care about the poor whether some abuse the system or not. They care about whether or not our planet will be usable for our children and their children. They care about helping refugees at our borders and providing a sustainable life to aliens who sought what we all get for free in America: freedom and a pursuit of happiness. They want no one to be hated and mistreated.

Now really, which one truly sounds like Jesus? Did Jesus care about weapons? They obviously did not have guns at the time, but he specifically told Peter that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword and made him stop attacking against a government official who was obviously out of line by arresting a peaceable man. If you're foolish enough to bring up the verse where Jesus told Peter to sell his cloak to get a sword, then you are clearly not paying attention. Jesus did not condone violence even at the hands of an oppressive government, so clearly he was not truly referring to getting swords or fighting with them. He had another meaning behind it. Jesus offered that one would win via love rather than violence. He did not promote fear of others, he promoted love at the expense to self.

Further, Jesus seemed quite bent on helping the poor. He did not worry about the poor being abusers of handouts--he worried about the rich being selfish and evil. He fought back against the rich by getting his own followers to live for the very purpose of helping the poor. If you look throughout the Bible, a focus on the poor was extremely important (see below). Sodom and Gomorrah, most known for being destroyed for sexual acts, was explicitly stated in Ezekiel 16:49-50 as being destroyed for their lack of concern for the poor and NOT for sexual acts. Things like homosexuality hardly even finds its way into the Bible. Even then, Paul made clear that Christians ought not worry about the acts of those who are not Christians. Rather, they should be more concerned with the behavior of those withing their own fold so that they do not make fools of themselves. So if homosexuals are not harming anyone, then let it be. Shoot, Paul said not to even consider marriage. So if homosexuals get married, who freaking cares?

The entire Republican agenda is bent on fear of gays, transgenders, pedophiles, aliens, government, etc, etc. The only thing they ought to be fearing is the direction they are heading and just how much they are not following their own religious leader.

Let's face the facts here. Christianity is not what it used to be. It has fled the teachings of Jesus and revolted against him. While I do not intend to endorse Hillary specifically, Jesus would most certainly be ashamed of his followers voting for Trump and aligning with a Republican agenda. Our government is flawed in many ways even within the Democratic party, but one ought to at the very least uphold the principles of the Democratic party even if we can't trust the party itself to pull them off. Jesus would have us find our own way to uplifting his cause of love and peace and foregoing the entire Republican agenda all together.

To understand just how far Christianity has turned from Jesus, check out the book Christians Are Revolting: An Infidel's Progress.

The Bible regarding the Poor:
Proverbs 14:31
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Proverbs 17:5
He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.

Proverbs 19:17
He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:9
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.

Proverbs 22:16
He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.

Proverbs 28:27
He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

Proverbs 29:7
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Proverbs 31:20
She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

Ezekiel 16:49
" 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Matthew 5:3
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 19:21
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Matthew 26:9
"This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."

Luke 12:33
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luke 14:13
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,

Luke 19:8
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

Acts 9:36
In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

Acts 10:5
The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.

Acts 10:31
and said, 'Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.

Acts 24:17
"After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.

Romans 15:26
For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:10
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Third Party Cannot Win - And Here Is Why

Not at all to say our 2-party system is a good one, and in fact quite the contrary, but it is unfortunately the only method of our current system to function. Perhaps we can fix that, but first let us understand the problem and why third parties currently stand no chance in hell (or in America) of winning. Parties were invented in 1790 out of necessity--to win an election, one must win over 50% of the electoral votes. So imagine that we had no parties and 10 people ran for president. Further imagine that we gave each of them an equal say in debates. Not only would this be far more catastrophically painful to watch, it would result in a mashup of votes. If we assign some votes to each of these candidates assuming that they each had their own good points that people agreed with, we would see that each one would get around 5% to 15% of the votes. No one gets more than 50%. Because of this, the House of Representatives now picks a president for us. No more popular vote. We all just wasted our time voting for no reason. That's where parties come into play.

Imagine that some of these candidates were very similar to one another. I may have voted for John, but Julie would have been good enough--certainly better than Frank or Sally whom the House just voted in. If we took John's and Julie's votes and combined them, they could have had 30% instead of 15% each. If we find a few more candidates to merge with, we could have all agreed to vote on this one person and received more than 50% of the votes to swoop in for the win. It may not be each of our first pick, but it is certainly better than having no voice at all when the House votes on our behalf! So people of like mind X pooled their resources to vote for a strong X-oriented candidate. These are the issues we collectively care most about and X will help us unite our votes.

Of course, those who care strongly for the opposing viewpoints will then do the same thing lest they become voiceless in the race. So they pool their resources to make candidate Y. If, by chance, there are other viewpoints not well shared with X or Y, they could make Z. But now, the votes are no longer going to be 49% to 51% with a clear winner, we are going to get 25%, 30%, and 45% (for example). No majority winner of 50% or more. So once again, the house gets to pick for us because we as a people could not make up our minds. The House preferred the guy who got 25% and now the least-desired of the 3 gets voted in. Well that's certainly not desired since the Zs would have much preferred X over Y and now 75% of the population is left extremely unsatisfied.

As long as it requires more than 50% of the votes to become president and we can only vote for one person, we will be forced into a 2-party system. Absolutely guaranteed. It is simply the smartest thing that smart people can do: unite their votes. Any division past 2 people will destroy any chance of the people picking their own president. Thus, if you do not like the 2-party system, we must find a new method of voting that does not permit only a single vote or which does not require a >50% majority.

With the technology we have today, it would not be hard to come up with a better system of voting. We could vote for our top five favorite candidates in order of desire and have an algorithm find the winner. I want Frank, but I'd be down with Sue if not enough people agree on Frank. Lo and behold, this form of voting has already been invented. It is called Single Transferable Voting. The basic idea is "if it can't be Frank, then transfer my vote to Sue." Everyone wins, no wasted votes, you vote your true conscious, you get someone who best represents the people. So rather than voting third party, let us combine our votes for now to prevent a catastrophe and then push the agenda for voting reform which is the only way to break the 2-party system.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What's So Wrong With Right?

I cannot stop thinking about the differences between right and left. I used to be extremely right-wing myself. I can understand how I was forced into this way of thinking, but what I cannot understand is why some people never recognize how much pain and suffering is caused by ill-conceived ideas such as assuming the worst of those on welfare. I used welfare to support myself, my wife, and my son while I went to college and it was an absolute life-saver. I am now quite established in the middle class and have likely paid enough taxes to afford all the support I ever received. I further cannot understand how it is Christians, of all people, who praise a God of mercy and love who make up the majority of the right. Well, actually, I wrote an entire book on that subject so I understand it just fine, but I still do not understand how some people refuse to critically look at their own beliefs. Willful blindness is amazing and terrifying.

Jesus taught a message of love toward the poor. The Christian right instead teaches disdain for the poor. They are lazy, as the story goes. The left sees them as just the opposite, of course-- they are filled with misfortune. I wonder how many from the right or left have actually even spent any time with the poor. This is one thing I can actually speak about through experience. I spent time with the poor. I befriended the poor. I did not merely hand out shoes, shirts, or pizza and walk away, I studied, walked with, and talked with the poor. I drove them to visit their friends and family. I loaned them my house. I bought them furniture for their apartments. I know the poor quite well--at least the poor of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I also know that I was the only one doing it. People "served" the poor, sure. They spent an hour serving up soup or hot dogs to any and all who would come, but they did not sit and dine with them as Jesus would have, and so many of these programs were done for the sole purpose of preaching and converting them to their faith rather than simply loving and caring for them.

Most of these poor people were mentally ill; they could not hold a job if they wanted to. They were not lazy, they were incapable. Of all the poor whom I found and spoke with, there were only three that stood out as abusing the system. Two of them were friends and simply found this lifestyle so much easier, though I have a hard time believing it was all that fulfilling. The third was presumably a drug addict, but I never confirmed this beyond the gossip. He seemed capable enough to me, however, so I do not suppose he ought to have been poor. Everyone else seemed to have the mental acuity of middle-schoolers or less. No sane person hanging out with these people would assume they were perfectly capable of getting jobs. The best that could be done for them would be to get them off the streets and provide something to occupy their time while they live out their days.

The right does not see any of this. They are entirely blinded to it somehow. It is the fault of the poor that we are in such a mess of a country. There are indeed those who abuse the system of welfare, sure, but somehow they miss the fact that the rich are abusing it a billion times over while the entirety of the poor comprises an overall small portion of our expenditures. Donald Trump, for example is likely paying zero dollars in taxes. Nothing. If he were paying some 30% in taxes like the rest of us, then our country would be in a much better position than it is now. And it's not just him. All the rich are avoiding taxes via loopholes in the tax code based upon their businesses. Back when our country was thriving the most, the rich had 70% taxes that they were actually paying. But the rich continue to feed the propaganda that if they get tax breaks and make more money, then they could make more jobs. And this leads me to another staggering question. How can the right be so duped by this? I simply do not understand how they can believe this.

How much money does one need to make before they finally start putting more of that into "making jobs?" Is it $10 million a year and every penny extra goes towards making new jobs? Maybe $10 billion? Heck, I would be opening my own shop with $10 million and yet the rich simply sit on it. Give it to me and more jobs will actually be created. It should be quite obvious that putting more money in the pockets of the rich simply puts more money in their pockets. Jobs are the last thing they create and only if absolutely necessary. They are already doing quite well for themselves and have no reason to create new businesses and new jobs unlike someone like me. And when things get tough, they keep their bonuses and high wages while laying off others who then become the poor that the right so despises. The fact that they're rich does not stop job loss. The economy controls jobs, not the rich, and the economy thrives by those who buy things: the middle class. The right should instead be despising the rich. How can they be so wrong about this? How can they possibly believe this tripe? It baffles my mind and I am miserably saddened by it. It hurts them and it hurts others. The country fails and flounders while they hate the poor, love the rich, watch America burn, and chant about how great of a country we are. What in the world is going on? I just don't get it and it grieves my heart.

So many people could be helped if they would simply soften their heart to the plights of others. But they've been so trained, I guess, to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps that they cannot fathom being in someone else's shoes. They cannot see what is going on in another person's life that may prevent them from holding a job or to see what drives a person to drugs or insanity. It is entirely impossible for them to love those less fortunate. Are they all bullies? Does it simply make them feel better about themselves? I just don't get it. The only thing I know is that they, too, have a problem which could use some help. I just wish I knew how to help them. I would love to help them see, but they do not hear facts despite being mostly capable-appearing individuals. They are somehow entrenched in their hate or disdain from the culture in which they grew. How in the world can this culture be changed? What can we do to open their eyes? Argumentation does not work since they are not interested in logic. So what would? What would help them see? Is their state similar to the state of the poor where nothing can truly help except to wait out their time? Is help simply outside the bounds of reality? Are they too far gone? I hate to believe so, but I just don't know.

I weep, knowing the pain and suffering caused by the right and the self-detriment of their condition. I know of no solution and it saddens me all the more. Why must they hate those in the most need? Why must they hold themselves higher than others? I have a stream of questions that may perhaps forever go unanswered. I simply hope that our culture can slowly change the next generation and the next after that while we see the right slowly die off in old stubborn age. But if their children grow within the same culture as the right, then they, too, will become the same. We mustn't allow the right to have an isolated culture apart from views of the left and experiencing the plights of the rest of humanity. Perhaps the best solution is inundating different experiences into our media. The right hates inclusiveness, of course, but perhaps this is why we do continue to progress. Our TV shows and music are perhaps the answer if our creative forces are so willing to make the difference. I have hope that they are and I see it quite often in the shows I watch. For this, I have hope for the future, but I still weep for the present, especially when so many of the left are just as blind as the right, picking their stance and ignoring what makes a person side with the right. No desire for understanding, just hate. I can understand this a little more, I suppose, but it is still ignorant and ill-founded to hate people who need help or to hate those who are beyond help. We are all in this mess together. We are all created by what goes on around us. I am simply glad that we appear to be progressing away from hatred however slowly it may seem.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Bernie Supporters Aren't Supporting Bernie

Image result for Bernie facepalm

As we know, and to the surprise of many, Bernie amassed quite the following during the primaries. He truly put Hillary's nomination at risk and many of Bernie's supporters developed quite the disdain for Hillary in the process. Such discontentedness with the opponent is often a side effect of competing for office, but not generally to this extent. Bernie promised to destroy the current money-driven fabric of our country and restore the delicate balance of the classes while Hillary sounded like she would merely stay the course. He wanted to right what was wrong while she wanted to make things slightly better with no drastic changes. His followers had so much hope in him that many cannot fathom voting for Hillary in his stead. It is perfectly understandable. Now that Bernie is no longer an option for presidency, however, his followers are slapping him in the face while simultaneously praising him. This needs to stop.

If a Bernie-supporter truly believed in Bernie, believed he wanted what was best for the country and its people, and believed that he knew how to bring it about, then why do they no longer trust him when he endorses Hillary? Do they believe he's given up? Is this the Bernie they were supporting from the get-go? A man who gives up? Bernie has been rooting for the people for so many years and all of his followers know this. You think he's suddenly given up all hope and rationality? That his expertise has diminished and his logic reduced to foolishness in his endorsement of Hillary? Can we be any more blind and foolish?

Bernie is wise. He understands the system better than any of us could ever hope to. There is a reason he is endorsing Hillary and it is not because he's given up. He knows exactly what he is doing. If we trusted him to rule our country, then why do we not trust him now? He believes this election to be absolutely crucial for our country's direction and yet we suddenly think he's a ninny? He stood up for civil rights and got himself arrested for it yet we think he has no backbone? He has proven himself time and again. Bernie has a plan. It is not his initial plan, but plans change and evolve when things don't go as hoped. His presidency is no longer an option so he has adopted a new strategy. It is not the preferred one, but it is the best one he can see and he's the one with all the experience, not us. It is not even hard to see why he endorses Hillary, but his "supporters" are too lost in their grief to be consoled or to use any logic.

Bernie endorses Hillary because he understands the power of unity unlike his turncoat followers. The very reason we have primaries is to unite the vote of like-minded people so that we are more likely as a whole to get what we want. Our system of voting, which is abhorrent by all standards and needs to change, does not function without such unity. If there is an idiot tyrant which 40% of the population supports for some reason, and two people who are identical by every standard except one likes video games and one likes books, then 40% will go to the tyrant and only 30% to each of the other two based on who likes books or games more. Presidency requires majority (more than 50%), not simply plurality (less than 50% but more than everyone else), but it does not go back up for revote to the people if no one achieves this. The freaking house of representatives makes the call instead. And guess what? The house likes the Tyrant. So now, despite 60% of people being wise enough to choose someone other than the tyrant, the tyrant wins because they couldn't agree amongst themselves on whom to vote for. Their unity was lost over books and video games rather than on anything important. This is how our system is set up right now whether we like it or not. Destroying this unity is going to change nothing about the current system. If we want change, then we need to be unified more than ever to push for that change.

With Hillary, Bernie knows that we have a much higher chance of changing how we do things. He has an agenda to continue the fight, to rally the people, and to get significant change. He may not be president, but he can do far more good with Hillary in office than with Trump. And if the non-idiot-racist-sexist-fascist-pigs are not united, then the idiot-racist-sexist-fascist-pigs win and we go backward rather than forward. Bernie knows the system better than any of us. If he sees the best hope with Hillary, then by all means we ought to vote for Hillary. It is not the time to blindly pick any other person just to complain like a child. Yes, the system is corrupt and unfair, but again, this will not be changed by voting "your conscious" as many like to call it. Your conscious should be telling you not to split your votes. Your conscious should be telling you to unite the like-minded people who care. That uniting decision has already been made even if many of us do not prefer it. The majority of us, however, apparently do prefer it. It is not voting out of fear, it is voting out of logic and unity for the greatest good of our country.

In the end, if you want a third party to have a chance, it is too late to do so in this election without a sudden and massive grass-roots effort which is unlikely to unfold. The third party would need to hold primaries of their own with a massive outreach campaign for people to participate in order to make a uniting voice exactly like the Republicans and Democrats do. They did not do this and it is unlikely to do so without massive funding which they do not have, so it is too late. The only way to make a third party viable now is to prepare for the next vote in 4 years. Start saving up money and hold a primary in 4 years. The other way to bust up the two party system is to lobby with Hillary in office to change how we do our voting. Votes should not be one all-or-nothing vote. There are many other systems that other successful countries use. We could easily vote for all people whom we would not mind in office with a simple denoting of whom we prefer. This change can only be made by we, the people, banding together in unity and calling for this change prior to the next election. This would make ALL candidates viable and destroy the corrupt system. It would be hard to change given the big money in the system, but it would be even harder with Trump destroying our nation than with Hillary even if she is less capable or worthy than Bernie.

So let's be wise about this. If you want to make a difference, then make the best decisions to do so. The best decision is not in voting third party in this election. That is merely a desperate cry which will not be heard and it is unconscionable. It is not a vote of conscious--it is the complete opposite. A vote of conscious says to unite with others to have the strongest fighting chance. Do not pull away now and make things worse. It is not the lesser evil to vote for Hillary, it is quite literally the greatest good at this point. It could have been a greater good with Bernie, but it is currently the best we will get. And let's be honest, it is so far beyond better than Trump that it is ridiculous. Use that conscious you claim to be voting with and do the right thing: be united with the rest of us and push for greater change beyond the election rather than destroying all hope to do so with Trump in office. Put your trust in Bernie in action and support whom he supports at this time for the greater good.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The War on Depression

At the risk of sounding like a Republican, I am not a doctor and I am not a scientist. But that does not stop me from having strong beliefs and hypotheses about a medical profession I know nothing about! In short, take everything I say with a healthy dose of skepticism. I am not going to attempt to write out any full-blown conclusions, but to analyze my own self and relay my experiences for what they are worth. Perhaps it can help others.

To start, I have a somewhat mild and irregular depression. It comes and goes, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly. I can go a couple months without any symptoms and suddenly I'm in the depths of despair for seemingly no reason. I might come out of it in a day and sometimes it takes weeks. It may be on and off throughout every day for a prolonged period of time. It all just depends. But depends on what?

I like to see the world through the eyes of programming. I think much of the world operates like programming: cause and effect. A program does something because it is programmed to do so under certain stimuli. Granted, the world has nearly infinite stimuli so it can be hard to nail down any one particular culprit and it may very well be a mix of culprits. I'm constantly searching, observing, and hoping, to come to some conclusions by analyzing inputs and outputs.

I recently had a stretch of depression that lasted a few weeks. I felt like doing nothing. I just wanted to lay around the house or go back to sleep as soon as I got home. I try to fight through it rather than sleep since sleep never really helps anyway and I have a wife and four kids to look after. No one wants an absent father, but it can be exceedingly hard and filled with failure to try. That, of course, is also depressing and furthers a cycle.

Why am I depressed? I'm not sure everyone has a reason. I'm not sure I always have a reason myself. Sometimes I just feel like crap and I don't want to do anything. I think, however, that most of my depression stems from a type of trigger and I think environmental factors make me more or less susceptible to that trigger. One such environmental factor has something to do with consuming liquids that are not purely water. Now, don't get me wrong, I can still be depressed drinking only water, and I can still be happy while gorging on soda and coffee. This makes it hard to identify them as possible problems. What I think is going on, however, is that caffeine and/or aspartame, and/or Splenda (sucralose), and/or sugar, and/or alcohol puts undo stress on my body and makes me more likely to succumb to the other pressures which cause my depression.

So what's the true cause? It's likely quite dependent on the person. When I am depressed, however, I am most often considering my own worthlessness. I do not feel valuable no matter how much evidence is presented otherwise. I will brush it off as meaningless. I want to contribute but I don't feel as if I'm successful. I've written a book, but no one reads it. I'm very logical and well-thought-out, but no one wants to hear my words. I can program, draw, run, joke, or do any other human faculty, but never as good as others. No one values my abilities, and those who think I'm great are simply uninformed or clueless. I'm useless. I'm a nobody. And I'm not okay with that. When I see someone else getting attention, especially for doing or saying something that I, too, have once said or done, it is a slap to my face. They're worthy and I'm not. But why? What's wrong with me? These events, I believe, have a chance to trigger my depression depending on my other environmental factors of food choice, exercise, sleep, liquids, etc.

So for the best chance of avoiding depression, the easiest thing I can do is avoid all liquids that are not water. This helps quite a bit. A single drink may or may not have an impact depending on what simultaneous triggers I receive which are entirely unpredictable. Sometimes they come from others, and sometimes they come from within myself. If I consider something I want to do and then consider how hard it would be to do it with skills I do not yet possess, I freeze up and feel overwhelmed. I begin to contemplate my own inabilities which gets me down a little. Getting down, I realize that I could never pull it off because I get depressed too easily. All these things begin to depress me as I think about them.

Other times, it's just a flat-out rejection that triggers me. If I show someone something that I made or wrote and they brush it off, argue with it, or otherwise invalidate me, there is a high chance I will shut down. I'm apparently very easily triggered by rejection. Somehow, rejection, feelings of rejection, and a lack of belonging or value are the triggers which press on the true cause of my depression. Knowing this is actually half the battle. Understanding where my dark feelings come from (a physical/emotional/mental need or corruption in my brain) I can suddenly realize that it's not "me" that is truly worthless. It's like having a broken finger. A person doesn't lose value as a person simply for losing a finger's use, and I'm actually quite successful and accomplished for having such an ailment as this. It helps ease the pain to recognize it's not a problem "with me" but with my body. It takes just enough edge off to potentially help me overcome. It is not a magical cure, of course.

So what is the cure? For me, I presume the cure has something to do with resolving these unmet emotional needs which probably stem from childhood or young-adult experiences. As a child, I had very few friends, no strong family relationships, and I coupled this with an out-of-the box mentality. By thinking outside the box rather than fitting in, I found myself... well... not fitting in! I was quite often rejected, dejected, and alone. I rarely felt belonging, and I rarely felt valued. So now, as an adult, how do I fix this? I presume that if I manage to find my sense of worth despite the onslaught of inferiority to the online world of giants and my severe lack of meaningful relationships, I could probably rid myself of depression for good. All I really know for now, however, is that drugs have never helped, religion was all the more devastating and likely caused most of this to begin with, and it is very, very hard to overcome. Depression is a spiral to the depths as it produces self-loathing which perpetuates more self-loathing. Is the key to beating it within myself? Am I entirely reliant on others to justify my worth? Is the key in finding a new way to see myself? I have no idea. But for now, I'm going to keep a close eye on my intake, try to stop thinking when negative perceptions arise, and take indefinite breaks on projects with no thought or regrets when I find they are fueling my sense of incapability.

If possible, I will try to find ways to belong to some kind of group, but this does open the door to more rejection and teeters on a fine line of helping and harming. I'm glad that my own depression does not last forever. I can mostly function and accomplish some pretty great feets such as finishing my basement by hand, writing a book, developing an Android app, designing my own papercraft, making a board game, etc. It's just a shame they're never as good as they could be without the ailment. No, wait, that's thinking negative thoughts. I'm such a dummy for failing even in this post. Gah! That recognition was further negative. I'm such a failure! No, wait, I know how to handled this, "STFU, brain! You're malfunctioning! I'm going to go watch TV now."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Letter to Asus

Asus US Headquarters
800 Corporate Way, 
Fremont, CA 94539

To Whom It May Concern,

I've never wrwith Asus customer service was so very appalling that I have decided to waste my time on a letter. 

It started with the tell-tale sign of doom with the voice of one thickly non-English-speaking individual struggling to comprehend a language as ridiculous as English. Kudos to him for speaking English far better than I speak Spanish, but in the end communication is frustrating when trying to explain complex technological issues and the words do not seem to be getting through.

As an example, I started the conversation by explaining that my Sabertooth 990FX motherboard will reset 3 times prior to completing POST. He, of course, heard that my motherboard would not POST at all. He asked me to do things in Windows which I explained maybe 3 times that it would have zero impact since it is not getting to the point of even trying to load Windows. I proved this by unplugging all my hard drives and the problem remained. I spent over an hour, shoot, maybe 2, troubleshooting this thing when he finally agreed to give me an RMA. He asked for my S/N but, of course, it's nowhere to be seen on my board and he has absolutely no clue where it ought to be. He offers that it is likely on the backside of the motherboard which means I have to tear it all apart and drain my water-cooling system to get the information.

Before doing this, I want to get an idea of expectations. What will happen? He says they will try to repair it and, if not, if they have it in stock, they will send me a replacement. I asked if they had it in stock. He said he can't tell me without the S/N. I asked what would happen if they did not have another in stock (since, by now, I'd place money on them not finding the problem). He tells me that he doesn't know. Doesn't know? There's no contingency for following through with the warranty if they have none in stock? I assume that they would probably exchange it with a comparable motherboard, but he could certainly not offer that assurance. 

So I sit on it for a while because I don't want to rip my computer apart for no reason. Unfortunately, my computer also has some funny behaviors which, given the POST resets, makes me think something is wrong with the motherboard. Problems remain after a complete reformatting of the computer. Must be hardware and I've already ruled out all the other hardware.

I finally take it apart and to my shock and horror, there is no S/N on the back of the motherboard. Nothing. Nada. I call up Asus once again and get a similarly lacking individual in the ways of communication. I start by explaining to him that my motherboard is IN MY HAND and has no S/N written anywhere on it but that I need an RMA which I was promised after some hours of troubleshooting. He, of course, has no more clue where the S/N is than the previous guy and begins trying to troubleshoot my motherboard. I explain once again that it is no longer a part of a computer but rests alone in my hand so I cannot troubleshoot further and that I've already endured such torture. Unshaken by this, he asks me to remove the motherboard from my computer as if he's heard nothing of what I've said.

After hitting my head a few times on the desk in front of me and getting zero assurances for anything regarding getting it fixed and what might happen to it, I finally find the S/N in a nice little hiding spot only visible from the position of a head being smashed flat on a desk. It's a sticker on the freaking SIDE of a PCI-E port. Not visible from top-down view. Why make it easy, right? Had I placed a mirror on the bottom of my case, I could maybe have read it while it was still connected with all the components. Alas, I share this good news with him and he tells me something ridiculous like the 12th letter needs to be an M. I grit my teeth in frustration and I offer that the 3rd letter is an M, but he assures me that it must be the 12th. Nearly giving up, I allow him to put in an RMA without it, but I press further. "No, this must ABSOLUTELY be the S/N. It says right on it that it's for my exact motherboard and I could have sworn that the previous guy told me that the 3rd letter needed to be M and not the 12th." He then asks me if the 3rd letter is M to which I assure him, as I did the previous 3 times, that it was. He then accepts it as the S/N as if that's what he said all along. 

Fine. Whatever. Finally got the S/N. He can now tell me definitively that there are none in stock. Asking him what will happen to it then if they cannot fix it, he assures me that he has no freaking clue. Wonderful. More assumptions. And guess what? They don't cover my shipping charges. So now I have to ship it just to find out what they might do with it.

I take the plunge. I go to ship it only to find out they want $50 for it. That's 1/3 the cost of the motherboard new... I go and find my own packaging materials and find that I can now send it for $16. Still, a hefty price for shipping, but still a bit smaller cost than a new motherboard so I accept the charge and ship it off.

However long later, I receive an email addressed to "Shawn Lordin" despite having SPELLED my name as "Sean Lauren" to the guy on the phone AND having written it on the RMA. They are returning my motherboard. They found nothing wrong. 

Quickly, I grab a phone. "What the heck is this?" I ask the new non-English-speaking person. The email said that I had claimed that the motherboard didn't POST (which is not what I wrote, but hey, let’s be consistent with not listening to me). It POSTed for them, of course, as it does for me, so they're returning it. They didn't even call me for clarification. The guy, of course, apologizes for this "inconvenience" and replies astoundedly that they wouldn't have called me. He thinks I should “trust them” that they’d have noticed the resetting if it were truly there for them. Yeah, Asus as built so much trust in my eyes thus far! They got the symptom wrong and simply shipped it back with no questions asked. I asked him to cancel the shipment. Too late, of course, despite it not being in the shippers system. He tells me they've already picked it up. The email told me they'd be shipping soon, but who'd have thunk it'd be a mere matter of minutes? I ask him to cancel it. He says he can't because it's not in the system. I ask him to wait until it IS in the system and then cancel it. He says he cannot cancel it once it's in the system either. Absolutely nothing they can do.

I ask for a manager and go through the whole thing all over again. He can't help me either. He offered that I can reject the package or open a new RMA once I get it. Well shoot, if I just reject it, will anyone manage it or would it just sit in a warehouse with people wondering why it came back? Suddenly, he changes gears and tells me that I cannot reject the package. Instead. I must test it when I get it back to see if the problem is still there and, if so, create a new RMA. Are you freaking kidding? Test it again? Hook it all up, fill the system with water, and everything? They did nothing to it and they want me to test it again. I've already tested it multiple times. If the problem disappeared without doing anything to it, that doesn't mean its fixed suddenly and they are out of responsibility for correcting it. It means that there is some kind of problem which is now hidden and will resurface in the near future probably AFTER my warranty expires.

After explaining this 5 different times, with him continually telling me to test it again, I ask for a new RMA now so that I can write it on the box and reject the package to save my shipping that they wasted. He offered, of course, to refund the shipping IF I TEST IT and the problem is still there. New holes appear in my desk and perhaps new cracks in my forehead. After arguing and getting nowhere for far too long, I have simply given up. Asus and AMD used to be my go-to products. Absolutely not anymore. I have never had such a terrible experience with warranty or customer service before. Absolute rubbish. Crap products, crap customer service, and crap promises. I am most certainly avoiding these names for all future builds and I am quite disgruntled that I recently made my newest 3 computers with AMD processors and Asus boards. Never again. I updated my computer with a new ASRock $50 motherboard which works perfectly fine and an Intel i7 processor. Computer now boots in a matter of seconds when before it took almost a full minute despite having a $150 motherboard and an AMD 8-Core FX-8120 processor. Absolute junk. 

I highly recommend you guys get your customer service and warranty process under control especially if you're going to rely on sub-par products to keep you alive. I’ve built around 10 systems with you guys, entirely unaware of what I was missing because of it. Never again.

Pissed off,
Former AMD/Asus Fanboy

PS, listening to how "great" and "advanced" Asus is while waiting on hold many times throughout this ordeal is a unique type of torture. You do know torture is illegal, right?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sticking Together Like Eggs and Teflon

Image result for eggs teflon

I got the call this morning (August 22, 2016)--my grandma passed away last night. She was diagnosed with lung cancer only 6 weeks ago and it had spread to her brain. I had just visited her in Washington for the first time in probably some 18 years or so back in April. I saw her maybe 2 or 3 other times during those 18 years and never talked to her apart from them. Her husband, my grandpa, died a few years back. I don't even remember what year he died let alone the day. I practically gave it no thought. I hardly knew him. I remember playing Home Alone and Carmen Sandiego on his computer when I was in grade school, that he had machinery in his garage, that he had a tough and protruding belly you could bounce off of, and that when grandma yelled for "John" it sounded an awful lot like "Sean." I often thought I was in trouble when it was really he who had it coming.

I am saddened by my grandma's death, but not for the usual reasons. I am deeply saddened that I am not more sad. My wife enjoys a deep bond with her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. A bond that I could never fully understand given my own family relationships. Because of their bond, I have a closer relationship with my wife's grandparents and various relatives than I do with even my own parents, let alone extended family. I communicate with my parents about as often as there are birthdays and major holidays. And that, usually in the form of a text message or Facebook post. This has changed slightly since the diagnosis of my grandma with my mom keeping us informed of her mother's condition, but that's not exactly the best topic of conversation. Even then, it expanded merely to Google Chat instead.

While I am not entirely convinced it is the only reason, I can blame distance for much of our dysfunction. My mom and her family lives in Washington while I am in Michigan. I am in the southeast of Michigan while my father who raised me is in the upper peninsula with his parents, and my biological father is in Florida--his parents in Oklahoma. I only just met him and his parents about 7 years ago and haven't seen them since. I get birthday wishes from both fathers via text message, and we get presents for our kids: money in a card or a gift of my own selection on their behalf. Beyond that, communication is practically nil. As much as they don't reach out to me, I am not reaching out to them. But why? Why haven't we been reaching out? The only answer I have for this is another question: "Why reach out?"

So they're my family. Is this important? Does it matter? What's in a family? I presume family is supposed to be a lot like close friends who stick together and never go away. But we have all gone away. And we're not friends. We stick together like eggs and Teflon. In fact, there is so little similar between all of them and me, that I could hardly imagine we're family at all if not for recognizing their faces as the ones I saw a few times as I grew up. We have a few similar nuances and behaviors, but apart from that we are polar opposites in ideals, entertainment, and life goals. Is it still worth pursuing such a long-distance relationship with those who similarly do not pursue it with me and share nothing in common? I could hardly say yes. Even if we managed to communicate, what bond could be made? It would be much like picking strangers at random with nothing in common and deciding that I am going to become BFFs with them. I have a hard enough time building bonds with people who have similar interests. Perhaps I am simply too socially awkward to know how to have any kind of real relationship family or otherwise.

This brings me to the true state of my sadness. I am sad that I am not more sad because it is a slap in my face that I have nothing to be sad about. I have lost nothing because I had nothing to even lose. I am heart broken only in that it means practically nothing to me. It hurts in all the wrong ways. I feel awful that they never cared about me, or perhaps awful that I could never recognize it. It hurts to know that my family doesn't think I'm worth pursuing or that I simply suck so bad that they have no reason and I am not worth it. Either my family sucks or I suck and neither is the greater revelation. I never called when I heard that my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. I felt no need to say goodbye or provide condolence. I never called when my grandpa died and I don't think I even called my mom to see how she was handling it. Is that because I am terrible or is it the circumstances themselves that were terrible which provided me no reason to call?

I am not entirely sure what to conclude about my family's situation, but I do know one thing: I don't want it to be like this for my kids and eventual grandchildren. I want to keep in touch so that the sadness is in losing me, not in never having me. I want my grandchildren to know who I am and to know that I care. I want my children and beyond to think me worth visiting from time to time and I want them to value each other. But what's to say that my own kids won't find jobs far away and become polar opposites of me? What then? I guess I don't really know, but I will at least try for now. I can only hope we share some common ground when they are older. I would like to think we will if I give them my time now as they grow. They're the only family I've got these days. I hope I can at least keep them.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sticks and Stones, Poopy-Pants!

We all know the adage that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. We also all know that the adage is a load of crap. Names do hurt and yet we often teach our children that names are meaningless--and we say so with full assurance that we are right.

This morning, my 8-year-old daughter was nearly in tears because her 5-year-old brother called her "poopy-pants." Poopy-pants? Really? You're upset because a 5-year-old called you poopy-pants? My sage advice was that he's a 5-year-old and is obviously rather foolish and thus his words are nothing to be offended at. Would I be offended in the slightest if some 5-year-old called me poopy-pants? Of course not! It is absolutely ridiculous and I know darn well that my pants aren't poopy. There is no pain there whatsoever.

On my drive to work, however, wondering why children have to be so ridiculous, I got to thinking about the names that would offend me. If someone called me a name at work, assuming they meant it and used something a bit more mature than "poopy-pants," I would indeed be offended. But why? I would be flustered at the very least even if a stranger called me a name and even if I was not to blame for any wrong accused of me. But why? I think the answer is because I see such people as near equals to me. I am just some random guy and they are just some random person.

On the internet, I am just as much a random troll as the next person and so we equally take offense at name-calling. I have since learned to brush much of it aside, but I do so by recognizing that they are beneath me. They are non-intellectuals who resort to name-calling for lack of sufficient intelligence to formulate a proper argument. This line of reasoning did not come naturally, of course, and it is by no means an easy thing to master. It is too easy to see any person on Facebook or on forums as an equal and we have no real means to distinguish.

The reason it hurts when an equal (or a superior) calls us names is because we put some amount of trust in their perception. We may not believe them, but we may wonder, consider, and ponder. With enough names, we begin to identify with the ill-will and believe something is indeed wrong with us. Anyone beneath me could not possibly hurt me with names unless I just happen to already agree with them and they simply remind me. My 2-year-old loves to say "Daddy's MEAN!" whenever she does not get her way. I know I am not being mean and thus it does no damage coming from her. If my wife, on the other hand, tells me that I am mean, I am likely to take heart or else be offended that she might not see me in the light of my obvious perfection.

So I have three take-aways from this. The first is that "poopy-pants" from a 5-year-old might very well be painful to an 8-year-old sibling. As far as they are concerned, they are equals. They are both children under the reign of the parental units as much as my coworkers are equals to me under the reign of our boss. Age is not so much important.

The second take-away, is that we might want to be more conscious about to whom we are giving power to insult us. If we take offense, we are indicating that such a person is our equal or superior. Do we really believe this to be true in every case? Personally, holding to the wisdom that is in peaceful communications, I can easily see any other person as unwise who might call me names rather discourse congenially. They prove themselves beneath me by their own utterances thus providing the perfect excuse to shrug them off as fools. Again, easier said than done, but this is, after all, the exact advice we give our children who are far less mentally stable than us. Or, at least, they should be less stable than us.

Thirdly, we should be more careful with the names we call others. If we are name-calling our equals or those whom we hold power over, our words carry a significant weight. We might as well hit such people with a hammer. If a long-time friend starts calling me names, it is certainly going to hurt. If my boss calls me names, you can bet I'm going to feel squished, tiny, and meaningless as a bug under foot. Words hold power, but generally only against those to whom one already holds some form of power or equality. Names only lack power when they come from below which is how we, as parents, see insults such as "poopy-pants" coming from our 5-year-old or the kids on a playground. But such fiery arrows of the tongue are devastating when coming from above and quite painful when coming from a friend or equal. To a child, there is no one below. All names thus hurt but nothing hurts more than the disapproval of a parent. I guess I owe my daughter an apology for invalidating her pain.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Can Thoughts Be Criminal?

I had always taken the idea for granted that "if one looks lustfully at a woman he has already committed adultery with her in his heart." I similarly saw hatred for someone as an evil in and of itself even if no crime was committed based upon it. I certainly never meant to indicate that people should be locked away for such things even if we could read their minds, but it seemed obvious that one should not do such things. I am now re-evaluating these ideas. Are "thought crimes" really all that bad?

It shocked me when someone considered Jesus' quote of mental adultery as being a ridiculous thought-crime. The idea that a god might care about our thoughts and consider them crimes seemed like a rather novel idea to me and yet others considered it quite repulsive. Should God not judge the heart and intent of a person? I originally understood such adulterous thoughts to be an indication of a person's heart and thus whether or not that person was good or bad. If we envision intimate relations with someone else's wife, is that not a terrible thing to imagine? Does that not indicate our heart is crude and corrupt? Would it not eventually lead to a debased mind and terrible acts? I guess I cannot say, actually. I have certainly had similar thoughts in my own mind on occasion and yet I have never done such a thing. I have never mulled such things extensively, however. If done regularly, does one begin to obsess and thus perform? Or is the evil only in the initial intention to act which is entirely apart from the thought itself? Is such a thought ineffectual if the thinker never has intention of making such a move? Perhaps it is nothing more than media with the screen being our mind and the actors being those we know.

If we consider our media, we see depictions of fantasy violence and sexuality all the time. We each have our own limits, but do such limits mean anything about the person? Personally, I draw the line on violence when it comes to torture or extreme gore. I had often considered such people who could enjoy Raiden's finishing move in the video game Mortal Kombat--where he saws his victim in half vertically right up through the legs while he or she kicks and screams--as an aberration of humanity. I presumed it required an awfully debased mind to take joy in such things. To joy in suffering is the worst of evils; who could do such a thing? And yet, I can take joy in a movie depicting war, and I can play games where I run around shooting people in the head without so much as blinking. Someone can easily say about me that I take joy in death and war. In real life, of course, this could not be further from the truth. I hate war and death. So how can I take joy in the game? Well, they are only images to me. They are not real in the slightest. Torture, however, becomes real to me even when merely depicted with images.

Torture happens to real people and I abhor such an idea. People also get shot in the head, of course, but death is far nicer and happens to everyone while torture is an inexcusable evil. When you die, you feel nothing, but when you are tortured, all you can do is hope for death. I do not want to think about, be reminded of, or consider how one feels who is or has been tortured because it makes me sick to my stomach and cry in sorrow within my mind. Maybe other people are less empathetic and depictions of torture do not become so real to them. Does that make them a worse person? I guess I have no idea. I presume plenty of people enjoy grotesque games and movies and yet might donate to different charities while holding a principle of no harm toward others. Does the media we consume truly matter? I often feel like it does, but does it truly?

If our choices in media do not matter, do our thoughts similarly not matter? Can we think highly of a person who might envision a coworker being hit be a car while they look on and laugh just like a movie might depict? Is that not a crime to take joy in such murderous thoughts? What about envisioning a sibling being squished? Or a spouse? Our own child? Can we envision running someone through with a sword or lobbing their head off while not feeling guilty as if committing a crime in our mind? What about raping someone? Is nothing off the table of acceptability? Is it truly nothing to be repentant about to envision such things for the purposes of entertainment and joy?

I have not really made up my mind yet. Such "media" in our minds seems terrible to me and still shows what manner of person we are from my perspective. But if our actions always demonstrate only love and peace without a hint of such a play being rehearsed in our mind, could it truly be said to indicate our character at all? Our character should be defined solely by our actions, should it not? I would like to think that the manner of person we are should be entirely defined by our actions, and yet I get an uneasy twinge when thinking that someone might be kind to me while secretly despising me and envisioning my demise. Is there not something to be said about such a slimeball? Perhaps what should be said is that such a person's character is exemplary for behaving rightly despite thier mind rather than thinking ill of them having done no wrong in action. I still have yet to make up my mind on all of this. Perhaps there is yet another aspect I am missing and have not yet considered fully to tie this all together. What makes a thought so wrong in my mind if there is no physical act to make it thus? Perhaps it is due solely to the culture in which I grew up. A culture which threatens eternal fire for those who commit crimes of thought. Or perhaps there truly is a deeper method by which we might define our character. I just don't know...