Pretty Swell

Wow, it’s been a little while since I’ve been here, so here is a little bit of an update on what’s been running through my mind as I look out the window over my desk…

The short version is I am in the process of reading all the books pertaining to the history of Victorian Britain and the post-war South in the United States while reading about fallacies in historical writing and argument, writing papers about Native-American history and the Lost Colony in North Carolina, and skimming through footnotes and endnotes and bibliographies in the search for material that will help me find the questions I want to ask for my thesis.

I guess that’s not really a short version. The shortest version is that I began my studies as a graduate student in history last month, and I probably should not be here, writing this, because there is something else I need to be doing. However, as I was reading this morning I began to think about how I haven’t just let go and done any writing just to be writing, and in order to keep developing my writing skills, I need to find the time to do so. So, here I am.

My last post is about my thoughts and feelings concerning Harper Lee’s recently published manuscript, Go Set a Watchman. I won’t go into that more here, other than to say that the core of that book has shown me something that I very much want to investigate, and I won’t go into more of that here because my preliminary thoughts and questions are not fully hashed out, yet, but they will in time. They have to. This is what I want to study and write about, and I will get evaluated and graded on it and have to defend it, so I have to figure it out, and when I know, you’ll know…if I remember to share it with you good people in my little internet universe.

Other things that are going on?

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The hat.

The seasons and the leaves are starting to change. The air is a little more crisp in the morning and the sunrise has more of a golden hue about it. I bought a hat which my wife tried oh so diligently to talk me out of buying, but if there is a hat that is me, this is the hat. See, the hair on the top of my head is migrating to places where it should not migrate, and I needed some protection for the oh so sensitive skin. Presidential campaign politics are getting into full swing a full 14 months before the election next year, and I am trying my damnedest not to get involved. My lavender bush is really putting out some beautiful and sweet smelling flower buds. We bought some rocking chairs for our front porch which are proving to be the best items purchased since we moved into our house last October. Seinfeld is on Hulu and provides much needed levity and brain rest when I need to take a break from books and journal articles and primary sources. I am finding out just how high the stack of library books on my desk can get, and looking some of them up on Amazon and writing down prices because some of them are books that will be purchased in the future, probably near-future. I am trying desperately not to increase my coffee intake; on some days I succeed valiantly and on other days I fail miserably. I am still trying to figure out the optimal work/not work balance and figuring out that the balance moves constantly with no notice whatsoever. This is important because the first all-nighter I have to pull will probably kill me. I am looking forward to finding some time this Fall to get the camera out and take some pictures. The camera is starting to feel neglected in its bag. I am learning a lot which is really kind of the point. It is not easy or fun but I do enjoy it and so does my brain. Few things are more satisfying than when your brain gets pleasure from absorbing the things it wants to absorb and finds questions it wants to ask and finds the answers to them. I guess you could say this is my drug of choice.

I think that about sums it up as far as what’s been happening since July. Another short version is that life is pretty good; you could even say swell.

I better go. Victorian Britain is waiting for me.

Long Spoons, Bowls, Food, and Feeding: An Allegory

I came across a short video today through the perusal of my Facebook feed. In order to get the full effect of what I am going to say, you’re going to need to watch it.

Source

After watching it, I posed this:

“A pretty good illustration of what is possible, but can you see another, more self-preserving solution? Once you see it, can you see that the selfless action is just as productive as the selfish one? And that it is simply a matter of choice between the selfless and the selfish?”

Being struck by its simplicity and positive message, I began to think more deeply about it, and another nagging thought planted itself in my mind, and that led to this post.

Are you ready for the thought? Sitting on the edge of your seat with intense anticipation?

Here it is…

Where did the bowl come from and how did it come to be in that place?

I get it. I get it. That is not the point of the video. The point of the video is, that through selfless action, it is possible to meet the needs of others while having your own needs met at the same time. I respect that fact. It does, however, imply the above question.

Does the answer to the implied question matter? Will answering the question solve the problem portrayed in the video and get the food into the people’s mouths?

No. No, it will not.

You might even ask me, “if it does not matter, then why bring it up to begin with?”

I am glad you asked, because, as always, I have an answer, and that answer speaks to a larger issue beyond the video, just as the video speaks to a larger issue than just getting the food from the bowl to the spoon to the mouth.

I don’t know about you and all of your friends, but I am friends with folks from wildly varied walks of life. I have male friends and female friends. I have gay friends and straight friends. I have white friends, black friends, latino friends, and Asian friends. I have friends that were born in the United States and friends that were born elsewhere. I have friends who are cat lovers and friends who are dog lovers and friends who love both. I have friends who drink alcohol and friends who don’t drink alcohol. I have friends who believe marijuana should be legal and friends who believe it should not be. I have friends who are pro-choice or pro-life or have no opinion whatsoever. I have friends who believe the Confederate battle flag should not be flown by the state and friends who believe it should be and friends who do not care one way or the other. I have friends who own guns and friends who don’t. I have friends who believe guns should be regulated and friends who believe they should not be. I have friends who believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and friends who believe any two people can marry regardless of gender. I have friends who believe government is based on secularism and should remain true to that basis, and I have friends who believe government is based on the word of God and should remain true to that basis. I have friends who believe in the veracity of science, and I have friends who believe in the veracity of the word of God. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are Christians and friends who have other faiths and friends who believe there to be a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name.

This is not a comprehensive list of differences that my group of friends have, but I think you get my point.

I want to focus on the last division of friends, those who are atheists, Christians or of another faith in a divine being or force, or believe in a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name. I want to take this varied group of friends, some of whom are quite loud in professing the absolute truth in what they believe to be true and mix this debate into the context of the video, focusing on the bowl of soup itself.

The characters in the video do not ask how the bowl got to where it did. Their only concern is getting what is in the bowl into their bodies, and how to do it. One of the characters uses the spoon to feed another, but requires help to do so, which the other characters figure out. Then the other characters see that by sharing and helping, everyone gets fed. See? Simple.

Let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment.

Suppose one of the characters, instead of working to solve the problem of getting what is in the bowl into the body, decides to proclaim, through either divine inspiration or rational thought, that they know how the bowl got to the place where it sits. Then another character challenges that proclamation, and, before we know it, the original problem is forgotten because the characters find it more fulfilling to proclaim what they know to be true and work harder to convince others that their idea is the truth. Then, let’s say that one of the characters succeeds, after a lengthy amount of time, to convince all of the other characters that their truth is the right truth and they all agree on it. Already hungry and malnourished, they are even more so and more weak than they were before. They are so weak they cannot find the collective strength to pick up even one spoon together, but the original problem still remains, even though they found the truth.

Or…

Suppose we have the same instance as just above, one character proclaims an idea concerning how the bowl came to be where it is and another challenges their assertion. While the two are arguing over their ideas and the other characters get distracted by the debate, one of them figures out a way to get the contents of the bowl into their mouth and eats the contents as the others’ concerns remain distracted, and leaves nothing for them.

Or…

The same instance occurs. An argument ensues, taking attention away from the original problem. One of the characters figures out how to get the contents of the bowl into the body, tries to get the others’ attention, but fails to do so because they cannot overcome the zeal of the arguing parties. So the character waits passively until the parties come to a conclusion so the solution to the original problem can be shared, and by that time, all of them are too weak to utilize the spoon, even collectively.

Or…

The same instance occurs with the same argument, taking attention away from the original problem. The same character figures out a solution to the problem of getting the contents of the bowl into the body and jumps into the middle of the argument, and points out that they all can be fed. They all see the solution and that it works, but they are so zealous in their need to be correct concerning the bowl, they refuse to care about the contents anymore.

Or… (I know you are probably losing patience, but bear with me)

The same instance occurs with the same argument. Attention turns to the bowl itself rather than getting the contents from the bowl into the body. The same character figures out how to get the contents from the bowl into the body, jumps into the middle of the argument, points out the solution to the others, and the others reconcile their differences so that they can learn the solution to the original problem and take in the contents of the bowl and be nourished.

Or…

Well, these scenes can vary any number of ways, an infinite number of ways, to be sure. However, with all of those infinite possibilities, not a single one of them addresses the original and most pressing problem. They all focus on the bowl and its place rather than the contents of the bowl and how to get the contents from the bowl into the body. The problem is lost in a sea of disarray and all because of a disagreement that cannot, in all likelihood, be definitively proven one way or the other.

By focusing on the contents of the bowl and the need to get those contents into the body, a solution was found and shared. The solution took not only deliberate thought but also deliberate action in order for it be achieved.

Do not let loud voices that proclaim in one way or another how something came to be distract us from the central problem. Be deliberate. See the problem clearly as it originally presents itself and work toward a constructive solution that brings a benefit to all of the parties that are affected by the problem at hand.

With each constructive solution to a problem that provides a benefit to all involved, a little more peace finds its way into what can be a peaceful world. Pray or meditate to find guidance or seek answers to larger questions through rationality. However, do not let those practices distract us from seeing the problem and finding a constructive solution.

That’s kind of the whole idea anyway, right?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of questions that are implied by the video or assumptions made by the viewer and vice-versa. Anyway, that’s what I see when I watch this video. What do you see?

Challenges

I keep reading and hearing things like this:

It is not a gun problem. It is a people problem.

Or…

It is not a gun issue. It is a societal issue.

This is typically followed up by…

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

And I have quite a few friends and acquaintances that are gun owners. Some are members of the National Rifle Association and others are not. All of them, I believe, are responsible gun owners. I have not seen or heard anything to the contrary to believe or think otherwise.

I also read and hear things like this:

Guns are responsible for this massacre and that shooting.

Or…

Gun violence is rampant in our society. It is a gun issue and a social issue.

This is often followed by loud cries for gun control legislation or action by the president.

Then it all goes away quietly after a time like a receding tide only to predictably return, just like the tide, following the next shooting incident.

Why is that?

Could it possibly be that both sides of the argument have some merit?

Yes. Yes, they do.

Violence is a societal issue. Violence is not just isolated to those instances where a firearm is used. Violence uses many tools, often the tool that will do the most damage at the time that is most readily available, be it a gun, a knife, a hammer, a car, a screwdriver, a shovel, a 2×4, a fist, a foot, a curb…anything really. Violence occurs when a white individual shoots a black individual and when a black individual shoots a white individual. It occurs when a straight individual beats a gay individual with a tire iron. It occurs when a man beats a woman with a belt or his fists. It occurs when a woman runs over a man with a car. It occurs when a cisgendered individual stabs a transgendered individual.

These are all violent acts using tools of one kind or another to facilitate those acts. Do any of these tools need to be outlawed? Of course not.

Do folks that want to use these tools for what they were designed to do need to be taught how to use them before they use them? Absolutely.

No responsible father is going to let their son wield a hammer or screwdriver without first showing the boy the tool’s intended purpose and how to use it correctly. When the father sees the boy using the tool in a way for which the tool was not designed, the father corrects the son in one way or another with the hopes that it will not be done again.

It’s like a tool that I have come to be able to use pretty well, a chef’s knife. First I was taught how to use it, how to hold it in order to prevent an accident, and how to position the fingers on my other hand to help prevent injury. I’ve even been harmed by myself and others that have carelessly used a chef’s knife, and I have the scars to prove it on each of my thumbs. With my education and experience of using a knife, both professionally and in my own home, I am able to show others the misuse a knife where an accident will more than likely occur if respect for the tool is not shown.

And that leads me to the point concerning these tools, especially guns.

Respect.

I see pictures and videos of the use of firearms. I glean from friends’ conversations their appreciation of their firearms and how much they enjoy the activities in which they use their guns, be it hunting, skeet shooting, or going to the firing range for target practice and further training. Yet, of all of those friends that talk about their guns, only one…one of them routinely discusses the importance of learning and practicing respect for the tool. Only one of them regularly calls out the irresponsible use of the tool by other gun owners.

That is the one single thing I want to see more of when it comes to gun ownership. Just like me sharing my experience with others concerning the respect of using a household chef’s knife, why don’t gun owners share their experience with respect of owning, caring for, and using a firearm? You better believe that should I ever decide to post a video of me actually using a knife that a disclaimer concerning the years of practice and accidents and blood and lost fingertips and patience is going to accompany it, because I do not want someone that is inexperienced to see what I might do with a knife and decide to try it, especially if the blade is coming within centimeters or millimeters of the fingers on my other hand.

To quote Uncle Ben from the Spiderman movie:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Yes, accidents happen. There is no disputing that. Like I said, just take a look at the tip of my left thumb to see that. Remembering the accident, how it happened, what you were doing when the accident took place, and sharing the experience of the accident and lesson learned can, and most often will, help another avoid an accident, which usually occurs during a period of time when focus is taken from the performed activity and placed somewhere else. In essence, we share our respect for the tool in order that others may adopt the same respect.

I call on those experienced gun owners to share the respect they have for their firearms with others in the hopes that folks will learn the responsibility one must assume if someone wishes to own and use a gun. I also call on gun owners to hold other gun owners, gun sellers, gun lobbies, well…anyone that has anything to do with guns to hold each other to the same responsibility. Those gun owners I know are responsible, yes, but, as we can clearly see, there are those that are, shall we say, less than responsible with their firearms and need to be held accountable before an accident can take place. If you do not want the government doing it for you, then do it yourselves.

I’ve used the term respect with respect to firearms and the responsibilities therein. There is an altogether different area with which the term needs to be used in this writing.

Violence.

What is the most violent action you can think of? For me, it the taking of another human’s life. This also coincides with the most egregious form of disrespect, essentially having no respect for another human’s right to live at all. This is not a coincidence. Violence of any degree equates with disrespect. Period.

Let me be perfectly clear. Disagreeing with someone does not automatically mean that there is disrespect. I disagree with people all the time. It does not mean that I do not respect them, their right to an opinion, or their right to express it freely. Why do I respect that? Because I have the right to believe that their opinion is wrong and the right to engage them in conversation and debate. Where disrespect comes into the equation is when anger ensues, and though not all anger grows into violence, it is always the starting place.

Talk about something that can be hard to do, well for me anyway. Talking with someone that I know in my heart of hearts to be wrong while at the same time maintaining my composure and respect for the individual and continuing to talk to the them rather than at them. In the past, admittedly, I have failed at this more than I have succeeded, but I am continually working to turn over a new leaf. If I find that I cannot maintain my composure and that the conversation is not going anywhere but in circles, I walk away…most of the time.

Anyway, back to the point…

Violence.

Respect.

Just like a child needs to be taught to respect the responsibilities of using a tool, a child must be taught to respect other people, even those that are different in one way or another…a respect of their basic humanity.

With respect, there can be no violence. Think about it. How can you commit a violent act against something or someone you respect? Even the smallest, most basic amount of respect, that people have the right to live without physical harm or mental anguish.

As I said before, anger breeds violence, and the anger that breeds that violence is the result of an animosity produced by an overt slight or a slight that is inferred by the recipient of a particular action or statement.

When I feel slighted and I can feel anger growing within me I know it is time to take a step back and regroup and compose myself or to just simply walk away from the confrontation. Not to walk away from it for good, because until a conflict finds a resolution most of the time, for me, that breeds resentment which can turn to bitterness and then to anger, which I have come to find is in no way productive whatsoever.

This, I firmly believe, is the key to finding a way to reduce violence. The first step is to look at yourself critically. There are not many things that are more difficult to do. Then ask yourself if when you communicate with people, are you talking to them or are you talking at them? Ask yourself if getting angry at the other side of the conflict, be it an individual or a group of people, is going to do anyone any good. Is it going to do anything more than raise your level of stress?

Then challenge another person to do the very same thing, and so on, and so forth. Like the bumper sticker says:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Will violence among human-beings ever be eradicated? Probably not. Will massacres carried out with firearms and other weapons ever cease to exist? Doubtful.

Though I cannot help but think that every single impossibility that has ever become possible began small with seemingly infinite challenges standing in its way.

The wildcard is the same object as the challenge itself. Humanity.

Normally Acceptable

The other night, I kept thinking and thinking about what I read before going to sleep and that prompted this post. I’m still thinking about it; wondering if there is a way to answer the questions I left at the end. I want to try to answer those questions and investigate this idea of normal, because, well, we all try so hard to individualize ourselves and separate from the herd. In small ways, we are successful. We differentiate ourselves and we give ourselves labels that provide some division, some distance, from others’ identities. However, most of us still remain within the realm of normal.

Why is that?

Why do we seek to be different, even in the most innocuous ways, but, at the same time, we voluntarily stay within the bounds of unwritten rules?

Is it a comfort thing? Is it an issue of stability and security? How do we set the boundaries on what is normal and acceptable when it comes to living out our individuality within a social group? How do we balance the scales between the consistency of normal and the variability of individuality? How do we measure and compare being different with being too different? Where do these unseen boundaries, unwritten rules, and unspoken measures come from?

Those are a lot questions, so maybe you can see why I am so jumbled up. Most of these are issues I think about, and have thought about, for a long time. Even for a group of professed nonconformists to normal rules of greater society, that group has rules that are unwritten and unseen boundaries that are not to be crossed if one wishes to remain a nonconformist. So, even in their nonconformity, there is conformity; there is a standard.

There are some that say screw the rules, let’s all live our own lives, but I believe that to be too simplistic. I do, however, believe that if one tries hard enough, one can find a niche within which to socialize and find a level of comfort, really, in essence, to feel, dare I say, normal, or would it be better to replace normal with accepted?

I am sure there will be more to come concerning this strand of thought. If you have all the answers, or even just one or two, feel free to share them with me and with the few readers that grace these posts with their presence.

Getting Over It…

Blah. That’s really all I can say. Have you ever been to the point when a head cold that has completely leveled you has finally started to subside but you still feel like you’ve been hit by a small automobile? That is where I am.

A couple of weeks ago, the sniffles hit me. Last week (pre-Valentine’s Day), it was a full-on head cold that put me completely out of commission. I’ll leave out the gross details such as an ungodly and unending production of mucus, other than to say that I went through every box of tissues in the house and still need more. My senses of taste and smell were nonexistent. I cleaned out a box of generic Advil Cold & Sinus and drained through a bottle of NyQuil singlehandedly. I’ve nearly exhausted the generic vaporub, religiously applying it to nearly any skin surface that will accept it and marinating in the mentholly cloud that enveloped me.

Now, taste has returned, somewhat, and smell has partially made its way back. Food is enjoyable, almost. Just the other day, my better half asked me, as I was applying the sweet smelling vaporub, “when are you going to get better?” I informed her that I AM getting better.  At least now I can SMELL the goodness. I have made it consecutive nights without having to get up to either take more NyQuil or reapply vaporub. Life, it seems, is returning to normal. However…

Unless you have been living under a rock, or in California or Florida or somewhere tropical, you know that it has been as cold as a well-digger’s ass for the past few days. I mean. Cold. I rarely complain about the cold. I actually prefer cooler and colder weather to the sweltering heat of the dog days of Summer. This cold on the other hand, has been, let’s say, ridiculous, and it just so happens that this Arctic cold, this Siberian cold, this whateverthehell cold has coincided with my head cold.

When you have to put on a hooded sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, a wool overcoat and a stocking cap under the hoodie hood just to take the dogs outside to potty, it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When the poor pups scurry to potty, only to return limping onto the porch and inside because the cold stings their little puppy feet, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold. When Buffalonians, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites (Wisconsonians?) point out how cold it is, you know it’s a ridiculous kind of cold.

That kind of cold and the cold that presently lives within my head do not mix. At all. Now the weather is evening out a little. It is a balmy 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, pretty much heatwave, but I feel just about worthless. Oh, and with the ridiculous cold and my head cold, one of the books that was put on my reading list is an 800 page narrative on the fall of Richard Nixon and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his presidential campaign of 1976. As I have stated before, I am a big fan of politics and political history, but this book, oh my god, this book. This book exhausted every ounce of patience I have when it comes to reading. If you read the news, be it the newspaper or an online source, imagine a news article that rambles on for 800 pages. Don’t get me wrong, the book is chock FULL of information and has extensive notes on source material, but it probably should have been two books, maybe even three. It took all of the reading time i could muster to finish it in just shy of two weeks, and took all of my attention away from other books I am wanting to read. So, take that plus the ridiculous cold plus the cold that stubbornly sticks to my head and you get my current condition.

I am on the mend and looking forward to finishing another book in the next couple of days and cracking into two or three more within the next week. The weather looks to be on the mend, as well, warming into the 30s with some rain tomorrow, then snow flurries/showers in the coming week. It will be a welcome return to normal weather, and I am hoping that the rain tomorrow will moisten things up a little bit. With this cold, any water anywhere in the air is solid, thus leaving everything dry. No amount of chapstick or carmex  or anything can provide relief to my arid lips, and the house feels like a desert, temperature controlled at 65 degrees.

That’s what’s on my mind as I look out the window at the neighbor’s snow covered house, the snow covered hills, and the snow covered yard, and I can smell the homemade tomato sauce on the stove! Here is to the possibility of slightly more positive posts in the near future!

A Change in the System

As I sit here waiting for the snow to start falling again, I’m thinking about this article I just read concerning a certain presidential hopeful. I’m not going to post the article here or talk about the particular hopeful candidate. I think we are all a little tired of campaigning and electoral politics, especially in my home state of North Carolina. We just finished with a very bitter and what seemed like a never-ending campaign season.

Now, I love politics. I do. I especially enjoy studying political history. What I am not a fan of is current electoral politics. Emotions get involved and warp the debate that should be based on reason. Then the shouting and finger pointing start, along with snide and pithy remarks that go on and on and on and on and on. It gets old and boring and accomplishes nothing beyond expanding the commenters’ own ego and hubris. We’re all guilty of it. I know I am, at least, and I admit it. Why is it so damn hard for others to do the same?

Imagine how much more civil the process can be if we set our egos and emotions aside and simply talked to one another concerning our opinions. If we stopped allowing politicians and their ilk to bring our emotions into the varied debates, they would stop. If we turned off our televisions and radios when their emotion provoking advertisements came on, they would stop spending money to have them broadcast. The web ads are more difficult, but are easily ignored, and sometimes can be blocked.

The fact of the matter is that politicians themselves, as well as their biggest supporters, have more than enough ego to push their side of the debate. It is our job, no, our responsibility to take their ego out of the equation and attempt to work the problem out rationally, without the influence of emotion or ego.

Another fact is that a particular political platform is not going to please or benefit everyone. Let’s get real about it. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total population for the United States plus Armed Forces overseas through January 2015 was 320,366,579 people. 320. Million. People. That’s a lot of people to please. A lot. Of people. To please. A lot of personalities to influence. No one person, no one party, no one policy, no one law is going to please or influence them all.

Oh? We are a representative democracy? or a Federal Republic? or a Constitutional Republic? Whatever label you want to put on it? So, it takes a majority to set policy and such, a majority being 50% plus 1. Half of 320,366,579 is 160,183, 289.5. That’s still 160 million people to influence or persuade.

But not all of those 320 million people are eligible to vote. Okay. According to the United States Election Project, the voting age population was at 245,712,915 people for the general election of 2014. Half of that is 122,856,475.5. That’s still a lot of egos to influence. But, only 81,687,059 ballots were cast for the highest office on the ballot. Only two-thirds of those even eligible to vote cared enough to do so.

Though not a presidential election year when more voters go to the polls, these numbers illustrate a couple of possibilities, one of which being apathy. People just do not care. Another is that a lot of folks assume that their congressional representatives will win their seats with little to no contest. The incumbency rate averages safely over 80% for representatives and over 75% for senators, so voters tend to stay home for midterm elections thinking their vote will not sway too much one way or the other.

The last possibility that I will mention here goes along with the first possibility that people just don’t care, and that is voter fatigue. A lot of us are just tired of elections. The election cycle never, ever ends. Campaigning never goes away. It is an endless and vicious cycle, and we are tired of it. l say “we,” because I do not think I am alone in this. I no longer watch the news, and very rarely listen to, or read, it much anymore. Well, I probably read or listen more than the average person, but not anything like I used to do. It’s not news anymore. There is little “new” in the news. It is the same story with different characters and different wording, but the plot never changes. Who wants to keep track of that? And with most news outlets, especially those driven by profit motives, mixing news with opinion and commentary, the news is not news anymore. It is simply an orchestrated pandering for like-minded viewers, readers, and listeners. This pandering is nothing more than free campaign contributions given by a given media outlet to the candidate or political cause of its choice, thus continuing the already endless campaign cycle. What it almost seems like is that there is little governance occurring within our system, giving way to the tiresome cycle of unending campaign pandering and electioneering.

And that brings us back to the emotional and ego driven side of electoral politics and the necessity to go beyond the emotional and reach for the rational, to put aside egos and that intoxicating feeling of being right. We can force a better and more constructive conversation. The office seekers are not going to change the conversation for us. We have to demand it. We have to make it known that we are tired of it. The absolute best way to do so is to stop. Stop contributing to a system that does nothing but indulge your ego. Turn the channel if you watch the 24-hour news cycle. Force media outlets to report news, real news, not opinion or commentary. Use your own thoughts to construct an opinion or frame of mind rather than ruminating on something that someone else has already said. Take your own thoughts and use them when having a constructive dialogue concerning a political issue or official instead of bloviating the same tired talking points that someone else has put together. Doing so can reinvigorate our citizenry and bring about an enjoyment of participating in our primary civic responsibility of self-governance.

We” are the government, not the media or elected officials. Elected officials are supposed to represent our wants and needs. We supplement the ideas and we give the political will. It is not the other way around. The media is not there to shape opinion with commentary, but to report factual information. Hold the media to its responsibility. If you see a program giving commentary, turn the channel and do not go back to it. If you read a news article that provides commentary or opinion presented as fact, go to another website or throw the periodical in the trash.

It can be done. I am as big a political junkie as anyone I have ever met. I watched the 24-hour news cycle like it was a religion. I read the news like I could not get enough of it. I have not watched the news on television in going on three years, maybe longer. I have not consistently read news on a major media website in about the same amount of time. I may click on a link here and there if there is an article that is really newsworthy, but as far as taking one, or even two outlets as the political and civic gospel? No, I do not do it anymore.

Ask your own questions and find your own answers. With such an amazing tool as the internet, it does not take much time to do, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Scrutinize and criticize on your own terms. Stop letting others do it for you. Information feeds knowledge and knowledge is power, real power. Stop letting others dictate what information is important and take it upon yourself to do so.

Do you know what scares those in power most? It is not an armed citizenry, but an educated citizenry that has the ability to process information and use that information for its benefit. Information and knowledge can do more to challenge authority than any other weapon. And that is how you bring about change to a system that desperately needs changing.

Getting Ready…

I’m sitting here and have been staring at my “To-Do List” for my graduate school application.  I have two recommendations down and one to go.  I have taken the GRE.  I have to write my statement of intent to submit with my writing sample, and I have to submit an essay of 500 words on the importance of a graduate school education as it relates to my career goals.  I have two months from tomorrow to get my application submitted for early review.

As far as the statement of intent goes, I don’t really understand the point.  I’d think the intention of most that are going to graduate school is pretty much the same…the desire for more education in a given field, taking a particular interest or focus in a given field, and gaining knowledge, tools, and skills that will make one more marketable, or, simply marketable,  as an employee in a given field.  Do they want to know if I’m a capable writer?  I’m submitting a 25 page senior thesis.  That should give them some idea of my capabilities to write, to make an argument, and support a thesis statement.

Yeah…so, I just don’t get it, but I’m going to do it.  I have to do it.  I’ve written two paragraphs coming to about 125-130 words.  I’m shooting for another 200 words or so, and it’ll be done.

The scholarship essay is optional, but who wants to pass up the opportunity for free money??  So, I’m going to write that, too.  It’ll probably end up being a flowery version of my statement of intent or something like it.  We will see.

I’ve sent an email to the professor under whom I wish to study, and am looking forward to hearing from him soon.  I’ve already begun reading and sifting through bibliographies.  Right now there are 10 books lying around my computer, on my desk, or on my printer that are either bookmarked or are open to pages I’ve been reading.  I’ve got a decent reading list put together already of 17 books, so I’ll just wait and see how it compares to the list he wants to give me when we begin meeting.  Oh, and those 10 books on my desk are not counting the stack of books by my bed that I have been picking through.

I may be crazy, but I’ve missed this.

‘fraid So

I need to get back into form. Lately, I have been reading a lot of fiction and rereading books. I’ve also not really been writing as much as I should. The problem with my writing is that the same words and ideas keep popping up in my head and flowing through my fingers, and I hate a rut. There is much to be written and much of which to think or consider. Why does my brain have such a difficult time finding it when it needs to find it most? Why do my fingers continue to tap out the same tired lines again and again? I suppose I could expand upon my latest blog post concerning the upcoming election and the instigation of fear as a means to the accumulation of power.

As I stated, fear can be an incredible motivator, or it can be paralyzing. Both can lead to responses that are, let us say, less than rational. Everyone knows this. Yet, we continually allow fear to give credence to our decisions. We continually allow those that instigate and propagate fear outlets with which to spread their messages of doom and gloom.

Also, as I said, I’m aware that there are real fears. I do not dispute that at all, but the question is that those real fears that you have, do you have to be reminded of them? If there is something that genuinely scares you or makes you uneasy, do you forget about it? Does it slip your mind as something unimportant? Or, do you consider this fear each and every time a situation arises in which that fear is presented?

I am no expert on human psychology, but I do know me. I know that the genuine fears I have do not have to be presented to me time and time again. I know them. I feel them. I acknowledge them when it comes time to make a decision concerning certain situations. I do not need to be reminded of them. I remain vigilant toward them without needing to be told to do so.

There are fears that I’ve had that I no longer have because I came to an understanding concerning them, or because I realized they were irrational and not contributing to my life in any positive way.

Here’s the thing. I do my best to avoid listening to those that tell me what it is that I need to fear. Do you need someone telling you what to fear? I don’t need that advice.

If something happens, I’ll either fear it or I won’t. I think it’s that simple. If it is something to fear, I will do my best to avoid it or overcome it, otherwise, I’ll pay it no mind.

If it is something to embrace, I’ll embrace it. Otherwise, I’ll pay it no mind.

It’s that simple.

It really is.

If I see a particular situation or circumstance affect someone in a negative way, I’ll approach it cautiously. If I hear secondhand of how a particular situation or circumstance has affected someone in a negative way, I’ll do my best to ascertain how the situation arose, how the person was affected by it, and how best to handle it should it be something I come across.

One should not fear a given situation or circumstance unless that situation or circumstance has been experienced personally, all of the facts are known, or the outcome is already known. This is rational.

Where irrationality comes into play is when someone tells us about something that someone told them about something that someone told them. Facts are lost. Effects are unknown and there can be no clear picture illustrated through the levels of hearsay. This is why hearsay is not admissible in a court of law. It cannot be proven. Why should fear not be held to the same burden of proof?

With irrational fear, all logic and reason have been removed, therefore, a rational choice cannot be made, and a poor decision becomes more possible, all because of something that someone heard from someone else.

Think of that the next time you hear or see a campaign advertisement telling you why you should vote against, or for, a given candidate, or the next time you hear or see someone telling you to be afraid of something. Also, think of why they are telling you that. What are they trying to get you to do, and what is in it for them?

Personally capitalizing on one’s fear is a pretty shitty way to make a living.  There is no reason why we should allow those that do so to continue doing it.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear…

It is a beautiful day, which is pretty fantastic since the weather over the past couple of days has been down right atrocious. I cannot remember the last time I saw so much wind and rain. Needless to say, I’ve missed the weather we get up here in the High Country. Like I told my wife, the bad weather days make you appreciate the beautiful days that much more, and when the weather is beautiful, it cannot be beat.

Fall is in the air. The leaves are in the midst of changing, well the ones that are still on the trees after the blustery weather of the past two days. The ambers, oranges, and yellows mixed with the still green oaks and pines covering the hillsides are beautiful and quite a sight to see. Set against the crisp blue sky, there are not many landscapes or portraits that can approach the level of splendor afforded to us during this change of seasons.

There are some things, however, that never seem to change, and are altogether ghastly in comparison to the beauty of the natural world around us. We are in the midst of an unpleasant and obnoxious midterm election season. Time is winding down to election day and the campaigns for, and against, those that hold elected office have been trudging along since the last general election nearly two years ago.

Luckily, we do not have traditional television. We stream all of our television over the internet via Netflix, Hulu, PBS, and other outlets. This has sheltered us, somewhat, from the nastiness that plagues regular television during this time of even numbered years. The campaign advertisements are endless from both of the mainstream candidates vying for the Senate seat up for grabs in North Carolina. Interest groups and PACs are shoveling money into the race as well with ads pitting different points of view into, seemingly, an all out war against one another. Watching these ads, one unfamiliar with our political culture would come to the conclusion that life itself hangs in the balance; that the human race is doomed, and that the planet is heading down a path toward irreconcilable destruction. I do not subscribe to newspapers or popular magazines, so I cannot say much concerning advertising that goes on in print media, but I doubt it paints any more of a rosy picture.

Speaking of the precarious position of life as we know it, I posted a little observation on Facebook the other day…

“Terrorists, illegal aliens, tyrannical government, ebola…seems there is always something we are supposed to fear. Those cashing in on the mass paranoia being spread through the media and social networks are only fearful of one thing…that we will, one day, stop being afraid. Until then, they are going to keep laughing all the way to the bank while everyone else huddles together in small, divided, fearful masses.”

There are other fears that I can add to the list including, but not limited to, climate change, recession, depression, gay marriage, AIDS, guns, gun control, war, Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, believers, nonbelievers, Muslims, the Illuminati, the one percent, the 99%, the 45%, the welfare state, the military-industrial complex, homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered people, corporations, multinational conglomerates, the New World Order, the Trilateral Commission, the World Trade Organization, the Federal Reserve, Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Fascism, and so on and so forth.

There is a lot of shit of which to be afraid…a lot, and those seeking power bet on the fact that if they can harness that fear and disseminate it among the populace, then they can achieve power.

The worst part concerning all of this is that we allow it to happen cycle, after cycle, after cycle, after cycle. Can we blame them? Fear is an incredible motivator, probably the greatest motivator. Fear of death, fear of discomfort, fear of the unknown. Fear is motivating, but can also be paralyzing and irrational. It can promote good decisions and poor ones.

Sure, there are real fears in the world around us. We all know what it is that scares us. It is time we stop letting others tell us what it is that we need to fear. Life is too short and the world is too magnificent to do otherwise.

Almost Heaven

Going back and looking at my blog, I notice that I have not written anything here since mid-July. There is a reason for that…probably multiple reasons, but the biggest thing is that life has just been pretty busy lately. There are big changes coming my way in the near future; some of which have already occurred, and others that will be occurring soon. More on all of that later…

What I want to write here is about a little something called a well needed vacation…

Back at the beginning of August, it seems like forever ago now…like something from the distant past and memory, but back at the beginning of August, we took our vacation. We returned to Siesta Key, where we spent our honeymoon last year, and spent a week basking in the warmth and glow of the Florida sunshine and the soft powder of the gulf coast. It was everything, absolutely everything, that I needed in order to unplug and just be. I mean, seriously, the week was ripe with rainbows and beaches. What more could anyone ask for??

The evening we pulled into the condo and unpacked greeted us with a rainbow arching through the sky out of our bedroom window while we were getting settled. It just does not get any better than that!

We spent that first evening sitting out on the beach and watching a thunderstorm grow as it stayed inland, refusing to move over the beach. The light show that commenced was above and beyond any fireworks display. The flashes of light in the clouds and the tentacles of lightning stretching across the sky were an incredible sight to behold, and behold it we did. In a word, it seemed, well, magical. There is a magnificence and awe that strikes me when seeing a thunderstorm unleash the power that grows within it…from a safe distance or under safe cover of course. One realizes just how small we are when witnessing such power and beauty.

If nature showed us her power in the first night, then she showed us something altogether different the next morning. We made our way out to the beach pretty early, around 9am or so. See, when I go to the beach, all I want to do is go to the beach. I want to feel the white powder in my toes and around my feet. I want to feel the warmth of the sun mix with the blowing breeze coming off the water. I want to feel the refreshing water on my skin. It is a cruel joke because I am blessed with red hair and fair skin. Some things in life just are not fair!! Anyway, we went out to the beach, set up our chairs and umbrella, and I headed for the water.

Now, I don’t know if all beaches are this way, but as I walked out into the water that morning to a depth just to my shoulders and neck, I noticed the water. The water was placid and smooth. Looking at it from my vantage point, the water was much like a mirror, reflecting the soft hues of the morning sky as the sun rose behind us in the east. Lake water is not calm in the way that the water was that morning. Little more than a ripple made its way through to the sandy beach. The fish could be seen swimming around our legs and feet. The sea birds were about looking for their breakfast. The world before us seemed calm and peaceful, as if there was nothing to worry about. This set the tone for the entire week for me, and that was something I needed. We all do, from time to time.

After a long day out on the beach, we made our way back inside where one certain reality hit me. Fair skin plus the first day out on the beach. You know where I’m going with this. Sunburn. All in all, I was pretty lucky, just my shoulders got torched and I managed to keep it under control for the rest of the week. I guess that is a small price to pay to experience a taste of heaven before dying.

The remainder of the week followed much in the same way. Perfect weather in a perfect place. There were more rainbows and more storms. There was more sun and more sand and more water.

There was more heaven to experience, and experience it, I did.