Archive for January, 2014

Appetite

Dunno about inanimate objects, like rocks, but it seems to me that living things had better have an appetite to stay that way.  I mean, without a desire to seek food, neither the individual, nor the species will stay animate very long.  And the desire to consume food is just one appetite; with a little thought, you can come up with many other appetites.

So, what makes us human beings different from, say, avocados?  Other than the lovely green color, of course.  Human beings have appetites, just like Antoni van Leeuwenhoek’s “wretched beasties” (bacteria), flora and fauna (and I don’t mean two of the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty), and Felix (The Cat?) and Fido.  Every living thing has appetites – gee, I guess that’s how we know they are living?  Fine, but are humans different?  And if so, how?

The purely secular answer (to a point, anyway), is that human beings, of all creatures, have the ability to control their appetites.  Not that you would know this from the likes of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber.  But, if you look at the much more typical John and Jane Doe, you would have to quickly see that some degree of self-control exists.  Or not, I suppose:

A recent article in The Economist points out that “In 1980 no state had an obesity rate higher than 15%, with obesity defined as a body-mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher, 203 pounds for a 5’9” man.  Now every state has an obesity rate above 20% and 13 have rates of 30% or higher.”  So much for self-control, eh?

A talk on TED speaks of “set points” or “ranges” of weight.  That it was NATURE not nurture that was responsible!  The message I got was that there was nothing we could do about it – our obesity was beyond our control! But even at that, Sandra Aamodt’s thesis that the brain controls our weight only proves my point: what we desire comes from our brain, doesn’t it?  “You can use life-style choices to move up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.”  While I am not a neuroscientist (I can barely spell the word), I will not abdicate choice to the reptilian brain.  Last time I checked anyway, I wasn’t aware that very many crocodiles could type.

The most obvious, slap-you-in-the-face-with-a-fish example of lack of control – of being human –  is the obesity that confronts us everywhere, everyday.  I’ve heard it said that cats will eat only until they’re full, which is only one reason why you can leave them in the house while you are gone for the weekend.  And dogs, God bless ‘em, will empty and lick the bowl before you’re completely backed out of the driveway.  So, which are you: a dog or a cat?  Or, which would you rather be, capable of exercising some control over your appetites, over your life?  Or, eat it all, eat it now, and let tomorrow take care of itself?

As little use as I have for cats (the feeling is mutual), I’d rather be the captain of my own ship than be subject to purely animal – reptilian level – instincts.  Every day we make choices.  Every minute of every day.  Even avoiding choices is a choice.  That free-will thing is a two-edged sword (if that metaphor is too much of an anachronism for some, I still won’t apologize for not being an advocate of the nanny-state).  Choice, or free-will is what makes us human – at least to the secularists out there.

In other words, it’s pretty much pay-me-now, or-pay-me-later.  Your choices now do have ramifications.  Your desire to have another slice of lemon meringue pie, on top of the Biggie Size Fries you had yesterday adds up to someone who is trading today’s indulgence for tomorrow’s sorrow.  Your desire to “Let George Do it” instead of standing up on your hind legs and doing something as simple as voting, is a choice.  Doing as little as possible, rather than doing as much as you can, is a choice.

It is often said that it takes only 21 days to make some new behavior a habit.  Imagine, in less than a month, you can “program” your brain to decide that exercise is a completely wonderful and pleasant – let alone healthy – experience.  Or, maybe that you don’t need a triple-shot latte to get every day started (calories, health benefits, cost).  Or, you can be civil to others (“remember: children are watching you”).  Don’t cheat the red-lights, don’t drink and drive.  Et cetera.  Et cetera.

Or, you can be an avocado and just do whatever is easiest.  You can choose to be a slave to your basic, reptilian appetites.  Or, you can choose to be human.  The choice is yours.  Duh.

Buy American

A good friend recently took me task for a “Buy American” video I posted on FB, along with my comment: “If it says, “Made in China,” I don’t buy it; if it is made outside of the USA, I think twice about buying it.”

First, let me beg the pardon of both Canada and Mexico.  I do appreciate that you don’t always like us Yanks – and you do have really good reasons (mostly, Mexico for the drug business) – but I am including you in “Buy American”.  While I can’t think of anything Mexican that I have purchased, the car I drive was made in Toronto.

Second, the video, and the comment that I posted, were aimed at Americans (specifically now, those living here in the USA).  I was pointing a finger at the conspicuous consumerism of my native land; the obsession with stuff – the more the better, and the cheaper the better.  Wherever they are made, this is the land of toys, as far as consumption is concerned.

However, this is not how she saw it.  Her rebuttal started with, “Typical American…,” and went downhill from there.  She has always been fiercely Norwegian, and as far as I can tell, with good reason.  I recently read what Norway is doing with their oil revenues.  As Americans are mortgaging the future of our children in our race to spend money we don’t have, Norway has created a fund and is running a surplus.  The USA: $7 Trillion in debt.  Norway: $828 Billion surplus.

http://rt.com/news/norwegians-become-crown-millionaires-349/

Before any Euro-phobes decry the high taxes in Europe, how is that Americans are so foolish with the “extra” money that we aren’t paying in taxes?  Logic tells me that our lower tax rate ought to be building a surplus, not a hole I believe we can never, um, spend our way out of.

Add to that the money we are spending against the eventuality of military action by the PRC (having grown up during the Cold War, it will ALWAYS be Red China to me), and it is completely unconscionable to fund their economic growth by buying their products.  Economic justification was behind the military action of Hitler, Stalin, and Hito; considering how much we owe Beijing, why is it we are surprised they are building a much stronger navy than they’ve ever had before?  Rockets to the moon, anyone?  Yeah, they are late to that party, but we have squandered any advantage we might have had.

My Norwegian friend gave me a reality check; I do, most sincerely apologize for my heavy hand.  I have the utmost respect for Norway.  I never set out to bash Norwegians.  I was trying to call attention to the typical American, ego-centric, “your life revolves around me” mentality.  A mentality I am trying to distance myself from.  Mea culpa.

Just your genes and your environment

I certainly enjoy the argument that “some people are just born that way.”  True, anyone reading this was born a human being.  And being human is not the same as being an avocado.  And neither is it like being a zebra – something that can’t change its stripes.  Being human means, more than any other trait, using the stuff between your ears.  Otherwise, you might as well be dinner.

One popular speaker/author has said:

    “You will be just your genes and your environment, UNLESS you make conscious positive changes to your mindset and habits.”

 He was speaking about being happy, but I believe the basic premise, that we can be – we have the ability to be more than our genes and environment – applies to all of our lives.  That would be all of us, and the entirety of our own world, our own reality, our own rice bowl.  There are limits, of course; I’m talking about staying within the window of your limits – but pushing those limits, finding the edge of those limits.  Not hiding behind what is easy, or popular, or convenient.

When I was younger, say teen-age and twenties, everyone I knew was competitive.  Like cats, we all had our “thing,” but we would stop at nothing to achieve it.  Tell us it couldn’t be done, or it wasn’t for us, and that was tantamount to pouring gasoline on a fire.  Now, looking at my sixtieth birthday, most people I know are complacent and petty.  It seems as tho the divergent world we saw forty years ago has been replaced with a convergent world; yet most of us can expect to live another thirty years, at least.  A long time to be on cruise, or worse, idle.

We bitch and moan about how “they” are doing this or that; but not how we are doing nothing.  We are resting on our laurels; which means of course that we are wearing them in the wrong place.  As kids, we didn’t care about material things and we were out to change the world; now, all we care about is material things and we hope the world leaves us alone.

If life is a race, being first out of the starting blocks is only a good start: no race was ever won by being first off the gun.  Races are won by crossing the finish line first.  So, why do we rest?  Why have we stopped running as if our lives no longer depended on our effort?  At one time, all we believed in was our effort.  Hopefully, with some maturity, we might consider that, as Gayle Sayers put it, “I am third.”  Physically, some of us are paying for our youth indiscretions; but that does not mean we have mentally turned into avocados, or like some aged zebra we are last in the pack and easily picked off by the predators.

Life is like your muscles and your brain: use it, or lose it.

 

Thanks to Shawn Achor, his book “Before Happiness,” and his website “goodthinkinc.com”

Pashtunwali

I will admit that I hadn’t heard of the “Taliban” when the US used them against the USSR.  In the twelve years since the US invaded Afghanistan, I have gotten smarter.  And this familiarity has bred contempt.

The recently released “Lone Survivor” has reinforced the view that I simply cannot think of anything at all positive about the “Taliban.”  Zip, zero, ziltch.  But what struck me was the concept put into a new word at the end of the movie: “pashtunwali”.  The value of protecting those in need.  Such stark contrast to everything the “Taliban” stands for.  In honoring a practice far older than the “Taliban,” a village rose up to protect a foreigner from their own countrymen.  Make no mistake: the village suffered.  But they paid with their lives the old adage that the right time to do the right thing is right now.

Apparently, there has been an outcry from the ego-centric left about the “pro-war propaganda” of the movie.  I can’t imagine a more anti-war movie.  But, not surprisingly – in fact, quite to be expected – the left has entirely missed the point.

First and foremost, any military is simply a tool used by the government.  If you don’t like our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, look to the White House, not to the Pentagon.

Second, the percentage of those in this country with any military experience is ludicrously low.  Twelve years and the invasion and occupation of two countries, to say nothing of all the “skirmishes” that may, or may not make the front page, and less than one percent of our citizens have participated – in any way?  Never has so large a burden been borne by so few and ignored by so many.

I am immensely gratified and validated that such a movie could be made, and be so well received.  A story – one of thousands – of those who believe strongly enough in anything at all to pay for it with their lives.  You never see anyone from the left who is that committed to anything, not even their lattes.

The “Taliban” belongs in the same camp as Hitler, Stalin and Mao.  And the United States, simply because no one else has the moral courage, has become the world’s policeman.  If  you doubt that, look again into those big, beautiful brown eyes of that little boy at the end of “Lone Survivor.”

Why the caged bird sings

If I had no choice, I mean, really had no viable, reasonable, plausible choice, would I still hate my job so much? Does it make a difference whether I have a choice, or not? I suppose, if I did have options, I would take them, and would stop talking about this, um, current unpleasantness.

Easy options I have none. There’s always the drop-out option: just not go to the office anymore (probably be more elegant if I contacted HR first; there might be some financially rewarding aspects after all this time, like a retirement package). But, going from a steady paycheck to holding a cardboard sign on a street corner is not an option that is being forced on me. And, frankly, I’ve grown accustomed to going to sleep in my own bed every night with a full belly. In other words, it would most definitely not be easy to give up my middle-income lifestyle.

Find another job. Well, I just read that the United States has more people out of work, who want to work (91 million), than there are people in the country of Germany (82 million). The number of people in Germany is irrelevant to my situation, but the numbers are daunting for some reason. I have a job now, and “another job” might be possible, but there is no way I could begin again at the salary I have managed to acquire (notice I did not say “earn”) after all these years. Again, a severe change in life-style. Even if I could find one without having to relocate.

Find something else in the same company? Not when this company is laying off. Not when the only option that exists for someone with my background is to go back out into field service. I spent over 17 years as a field representative, and just can’t do that anymore (my very long list of reasons start with an aging mother – I was overseas when my father died, I won’t do that to her, again). So, yeah, I could take a cut in pay, go through the unbelievable hassles of living and working in other countries (I stopped counting at 24), and not see people I care about except for maybe one week out of the year. I could do that, but I have chosen not to. Which is precisely why I am in this “call center”: this position is the only alternative I could find, and stay in the same company (it isn’t a matter of seniority, it is a matter of the accumulation of benefits).

I would never equate myself with Paul Dunbar or Maya Angelou, but I can understand what they are talking about when they wrote about the caged bird singing. The feeling, deep down inside; that knowledge that pounds against my skull, that there is something better, something worthwhile, something of value.

Maya Angelou (http://allpoetry.com/poem/8511445-I-Know-Why-The-Caged-Bird-Sings-by-Maya-Angelou)
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The title and inspiration for this poem came from a line in Paul Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/11717-Paul-Laurence-Dunbar-Sympathy .
It was also the title of the first volume of Dr. Angelou’s autobiography published in 1969.
+++

Paul Laurence Dunbar (http://allpoetry.com/poem/8463189-Sympathy-by-Paul-Laurence-Dunbar)
Sympathy
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
Author Notes
The above poem was published in Lyrics of the Hearthside by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1899.

Happy New Year

I’ve just completed something of a ‘marathon’ Star Trek session. Only the latest two films, but I paid money for them (unusual for me); and that makes this significant.

First, I’d like to say that, somehow, the ability to gather together incredibly incompetent acting has not left the Star Trek Franchise. Nothing at all against the persons who act the characters – I’ve never met an actor/actress – but it is really remarkable and astounding that ineptitude has been part and parcel of Star Trek since William Shatner. Either that or, I just do not appreciate the actors that are selected. Or, more likely, I don’t appreciate the direction they receive. At least the Star Trek Franchise is consistent, and that is apparently what the chattering classes desire. More power to them. And the James Bond Franchise. And, I guess (never having seen any) the “Fast and Furious Franchise.”

But, what I found the most fascinating – truly the ‘what did I take away from watching’ – about current Hollywood is the absolute necessity of living, apparently, forever. I just don’t see the question asked of ‘how do you live.’ But, over and over and over again, it is the basic, fundamental desire to live just one more day; or in the case of one of the incarnations of Captain Kirk, just 12 minutes.

Yet, the final credits roll and we walk. We walk out of the theater, or our living room, back to the same old lives we escaped from when the curtain was raised. Nothing changed in us. It was, after all, just entertainment. Mere entertainment. No wonder that actors were once looked down upon as the most despicable occupation there was, below even prostitution (which, I imagine can have not only entertainment, but also satisfaction involved). I have yet to see a movie that was ‘satisfying.’

This was a weekend of American Football Playoffs. Four games. I watched one entire game at the home of a friend, noticing most of all, the behavior of the dozen or so other watchers. While I did grow up with football, both as spectator and participant, I have since lost the connection. Yes, I wish Greenbay had won, and San Francisco had lost; but I still think the Colts belong in Baltimore. That was enough for me. I understand that the so-called ‘Superbowl’ is yet to come; I will probably watch it at the home of my friend, but only for the sake of our friendship – I certainly have no interest in mere entertainment.

What I do find of interest is the desire of human beings. Persons, if you will. I have a brother who is training for the ‘Wasatch Steeplechase,’ I applaud his efforts to be more than he is. Altho purely physical endeavors are of more worth than watching hours of tv; there is a long way to go to:

Why are we here?

I have struggled for years, as my closest friend(s) know for the path to why. I guess, after years of struggling with this blog, I will have to explore this path here. It will henceforth not be about football or food or petty politics. It will focus on what is important – truly important – and nothing else. Sound boring? What else matters?

In my view, nothing at all.