100 Million Miles

The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal, at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.

I guess that would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching 90 Day Fiancé or the Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.

One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a distance is that I haven’t written much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really motivated to do it.

At the end of the day, I guess it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not something I feel called to do nor do I necessarily have a story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker with the idea.

Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.

Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I learned that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I saw that or heard that information while in school or in life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times in my life and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?

But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away. Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different than where it ended up. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or a million miles farther away in our solar system?

Nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!

How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?

But when I think about how I got here to where I am today, the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze Emily’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind.

I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.

I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we’re going to be happy.

So, I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said. Writing is my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life.

So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things. I’m an internal person, and not particularly expressive. I can write a personal card or email pretty much anytime I want.

Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better. If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand your own acknowledged weaknesses.

This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy continues to radiate in my own story.

If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a good chance you end up in exactly the right place.

That is exactly what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.

Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.

And yet, finally…just like the sunlight, everything is just right.

Life Is Short, Even On It’s Longest Days

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There are times in our lives when inevitability and expectation crash together and we’re forced to accept that it’s inevitability that has the best odds. In a fleeting moment, circumstances and life take a sharp curve at a bad angle and suddenly we’re not as surefooted as we may have believed we once were. People in our lives, no, important people in our lives die, and we’re left behind trying to figure out what it all means to us, what we’re supposed to do, and more importantly what are we still capable of doing without them.

In the outrageously short span of a couple weeks, someone in your life who is outwardly strong, weakens and dies. My mom’s husband of thirty-two years, Bill, died last week. He’d been a part of our family story far longer than our own deceased father. There were some good memories and some bad too but this is not really a story about Bill; its about me and you.

Emily is probably reading this right now and saying, “of course, its about you”, and she’d be right of course, but I’m still determined to move forward with the usual piles of babble and gibberish I normally produce anyway, ignoring all the subtle innuendo and eye-rolling. Without any benefit of having literary fans, I’m merely forced to live up to my own expectations which aren’t really all that high – so read this at your own risk.

So if Bill isn’t the subject of this blog, why are we all here; all three of us? Well, it’s complicated. The easiest way I can explain it is that I’m a person who normally lives in my head and right now I really need to be living inside my heart. I think a lot of people, like myself, go into our heads when we’re sad or wounded because we think we’re smart and we need answers, or we want to take prisoners and need to build places to put them.

But sometimes a person just needs to get out of their head and into their feelings. The problem is that my feelings have grown an entire pant size since I last wore them. Alas, at the age of 54 I’m suddenly realizing the true value of stretch pants. I should be thankful that hearts aren’t made to stretch like old-man-jeans or else I may be tempted to live more comfortably in my heart, defeating the purpose of being born with a Y chromosome.

The overriding and principle motivation for this blog being that I really just want my mom to be OK. This is her second husband to leave her behind and I can’t imagine the experience of uncertainty and grief that she must be experiencing right now. If your life is lived a certain way, perhaps very independently, and something like this happens, it turns your world upside down because you can’t help but to visualize your life exactly as it has thus far been lived – only without your partner in tow or pulling the plow.

Those are valid thoughts and for many people who don’t have children or family to step up and into new roles, these kinds of fears can become our realities. But losing a spouse at an advanced age doesn’t necessarily put you in some predetermined box, especially if you have important things you want to do or say or be. You’re only limited by your thoughts; its the same for 8 year old’s as it is 80 year old’s.

While the moment is emotionally overwhelming, yes, time itself is not necessarily definitive. Who better to reinvent or reinvigorate their lives than a mature person who could give a rat’s ass about what other people think of them? Sometimes, you don’t need a plan, you just need to breathe, let go, and see what happens.

Maturity is the great equalizer isn’t it – you can finally take advantage of it. If life isn’t or hasn’t been giving you things to look forward to, do things or say things or write things that frame what precious moments you have left of your life in a way that is truly worthy of how you want others to know you – and look forward to whatever new beginnings you choose to cultivate.

Crisis need not be the catalyst for growth or change, but it sure does bring things into perspective. The selfish side of my personality is excited about having my mom all to myself again but the nicer of my temperaments ache for her as she so obviously craves some higher level of acuity as to her near and distant futures. It’s a challenge to find the right words sometimes, when you know someone you love needs to hear something they can cling to – or most importantly, believes.

Did I mention that one of my best life-long friends passed away last week too? Yeah, that one was a real kick in the gut. I think he deserves his own blog so I don’t want to wallow around in the emotion of that in this story and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the message I’m trying to convey here either. Everything in its own time right?

So let’s sum this thing up so that Emily will actually read the whole thing. We’re all getting old. Time is ticking for the 5 year old and it’s ticking for the 50 year old’s. Although the damn clock continues to tick, it also tocks…, tock rhymes with rock so lets rock shall we? There are only so many summers left and I intend not to waste them being old.

I don’t want you to waste yours just being the old chic either. Don’t be old, be vast and brilliant and expressive. Or you can be one of those fake palm reader persons, OR, your could be an old lady prostitute if you want, just be and be happy being. Life is short, even on it’s longest days. It’s not about existing, it’s about living. You can do this; we can do this together.

When the Levee Breaks

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I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.

Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

Good Bad Times

People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

FeatImage-Bonham2

One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

R.214 LED ZEP PAGE VIOLIN BOW

In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

Stairway to heaven

If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

ramble on

Genesis 2.0

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Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

monty_python__the_inquisition_by_emperornortonii

What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

flat-world

All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

Mom, I Turned Out Awesome!

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From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.

I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life happened to him. Soon maybe.

I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized.

Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I do what I can do.

For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. Said differently, the way I speak bores some people. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall.

Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, waiting to finally be recognized.

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I’m finally doing mom. I finally decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which is inspiring me.

I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not.

I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.

I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.

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Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.

I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.

Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.

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I think that the reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.

When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.

But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.

My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.

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I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences.

Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.

Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind.

Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.

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As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.

But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.

The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me a context and texture of her character and of her superior intellect.

For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working until she was 70 years old.

The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.

In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.

It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 75 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind.

I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.

What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is.

While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.

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The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.

I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

An Enigma, Wrapped in a Mystery, All Inside a Tasty Little Cookie

I was dining last week with Emily at a Japanese steak house nearby and discovered a fairly evocative fortune inside my cookie that I just had to write something about. It’s not often that I feel inspiration from a fortune cookie but this one immediately aroused a common theme in which I’m always a sucker for writing about – advice. Probably 75% of my blogs are related to life-advice.

People close to me, pretty much my whole life, have told me that I’m a decent giver of advice. As a result, I’ve become sort of a reluctant incompetently competent supplier of advice. It’s important to note, in case you wanna stop reading here, I have no paying customers.

Although I’m comfortable to offer advice on some subjects, I’m also keenly aware that giving advice can be a dangerous thing to do. To presume that I should be telling people what to do with their own lives implies something very close to egomania, a condition in which I pray never takes me over. That said, I think that my inclination to write forces me to place what little intellect I do have on-the-line, whether I like it or not. Otherwise, what would I write about, ugh, maybe fortune cookies?

It’s actually kind of funny to me; while you can obtain all these advice-wrapped fortune cookies pretty much anywhere in the developed world, you won’t find them at all in China or Japan – the places you’d most expect to see them. What does that say about America – or Asia?

Is the Chinese Buffet some sort of hidden metaphor – perhaps that we all should be ‘getting our fair share in life’? The Chinese have discovered that Americans love getting unsolicited advice so much that they created a plain Jane cookie that draws us in like flies to their restaurants.

Regardless of any of that, we ‘Mericans’ love things to be simple, including our life paths. Just give me my high school diploma, a $50,000 a year job, and a cool house then leave me alone. Simple! But simple rarely gets us where we’d really like to be and life generally sucks a little while before you finally bite into to the piece of chocolate with the hazelnut on the inside.

In the likely event that all four of you readers are wondering… my fortune cookie says, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” I don’t know who to attribute that quote to because the cookie didn’t provide a bibliography so I hope the blog police aren’t paying any attention. All jokes aside, just let that statement percolate for a minute or two. What statement could be truer than this one?

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I say this because no matter how great a job we have or how much money we’re able to bring home, nothing in my life thus far has ever trumped the joy I’ve experienced in meeting an important goal or achieving an important victory. That joy only amplified when my own creativity contributed to the success of the overall project.

A good example is this blog. No one is paying me to spend my free time writing down my thoughts; my pay comes from the personal satisfaction I experience at completing an endeavor I feel passionate about or where someone I love might benefit one day from my insanity. It’s just something I like doing – made sweeter with the idea that someone else may find it entertaining or insightful.

In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else finds that same value, although I love it when they do, it only matters that I entered into a personal creative process from which there derived something tangible and meaningful. When folks are solving big problems, the last thing they’re thinking about at the moment is how much they’re getting paid.

If all of the above is true, then our goal in life might be to play, play, play, work, work, work at something – anything, until such time as we are better able to figure out just what it may be that we most enjoy doing, and what we’re naturally good at doing. Hopefully, a few years of toiling away at crappy jobs while making new acquaintances and conversing about life, one begins to start assessing where he/she is and where he/she may like to go or what job or career may better fit their personality or push certain peculiar buttons that absolutely need to be pushed.

Obviously, not everyone throws caution into the wind to see where things land before picking a career path. Some of us plan out our professional aspirations at dreadfully young ages. Some people are just natural born planners and organizers.

I’m not really writing about those people because those kinds of people don’t really notice people like us, people who start off adulthood without plans. Those other smarter and more organized people suck.

Organizer types don’t have time to worry about us because they, still, are too busy organizing their calendars for what’s happening this afternoon, tomorrow morning and next week. This particular blog/rant is really speaking to the folks out there who may be struggling emotionally because they’re stuck in a rut not knowing what they should do with the rest of their lives or even the right direction their ship should be oriented.

Obviously, we are not all alike. While some of us have no problem fixating on a goal then working to achieve it, others of us find it difficult to even pick a goal. I personally think it is an unspoken tragedy of life that we most often seek to understand the goal and not the self. We try to adjust ourselves to the demands of a theory when we might be better off adjusting ourselves to a congruence with our own personal identity. We should never strive necessarily to be a banker, a teacher, a pilot or a policeman. We should strive first to be ourselves.

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I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be a banker, pilot or policeman – what I am saying is that I think we are better off making our goals conform to our identity rather than mold our identity to conform to a goal. In each of us, DNA, environment, socio-economic forces, family values, etc., have all combined to produce a person with certain desires and aptitude, including a profound and deeply ingrained desire to have a life that is meaningful. We all find meaning and purpose in different ways. For some it’s children, or a great career. For others it may be shiny aluminum wheels or a mink coat.

So, as I see it, we need not dedicate our entire lives to achieving any pre-defined goal, but instead choose a life we know we will enjoy. Goals are absolutely secondary: it is our functioning toward the goal which is perhaps most important. Allowing another person to define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes us all individuals.

In short, the formula is as follows: we must choose a path which will let us use our natural abilities, which lets us function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of our personal desires, and in so doing we fulfill a need for expressing our identity and avoid frustrating our potentiality and the fear of watching our goals disappear or gradually lose the charm they once held.

Because, after all, every single day we view those original goals from an entirely different angle. As we evolve, those once powerfully attractive goals may lose some of their glitter. If we’ve dedicated our entire lives to achieving a goal which no longer seems appropriate for us; then what? Once I thought about becoming an attorney. Then I met attorneys and realized that they work all day and do homework every night. My perspective changed by means of experience and insight.

Our perspective on life and goals will change. It is not the pilot or the banker that changes, it is us. Each of us are the sum total of our reactions to different experiences. As those experiences multiply, we change – we’re evolving into different men and women. Because we’re different, our perspective changes. Alternatively, if we wait long enough – if procrastination becomes the goal, then it will be circumstance that makes our decisions for us.

So, in essence, we shouldn’t just throw caution into the wind as I was saying earlier. Metamorphoses shouldn’t necessarily be completely organic. You can and should read and listen and expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible. Every nowhere job you’ll ever have will expose you to new ideas and new situations and new people, all of which provide lots of life-lessons. Those absurd and gross people you despise may offer you one little gem of genius that completely transforms the way you think about something unrelated but important to you. Wisdom is everywhere, even in assholes. Your greatest inspirations for obtaining the perfect ‘you-job’ will come from having lots of crappy jobs and knowing lots of assholes.

But, all the wisdom you’re accumulating while you are “doing” will give you the tools you need to eventually make big life decisions. Regardless of everything I’ve said about honoring the soul inside the worker, you still always have the goal of creating and achieving because that is something instinctive that must be nourished. We continually do that with information and knowledge that our experiences turn into wisdom. Wisdom of things and life and self.

Today, unlike the many generations before you, we live in a world overflowing with superfluous information. And yet, with such an abundance of information and data at our fingertips, what we seem to be experiencing is a growing scarcity of wisdom. I think it is very easy to confuse the two (very different) things.

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Many of us think that by having access to more information we can produce more knowledge, which automatically results in more wisdom. The reality is that the opposite is true. The reason I say this is because when a person inundates themselves with more and more data without the proper context, it only jumbles our understanding of the world rather than elevating it.

I see real life examples of this all the time at work. Someone is assigned to lead a task; the leader is naturally a person who lives and breathes those types of issues and thus is highly knowledgeable about the subject matter. Bureaucrats who are intelligent but not experienced in the subject matter quickly digest information from the task leader, along with information found by way of Google, as well as a few phone calls and all of the sudden they become experts themselves, regurgitating lines back to the leader that they learned from him/her not 10 days prior, no longer needing and many times rejecting the wisdom of the task leader because that wisdom and experience doesn’t align with Google’s version nor their own political agenda.

It happens all the time. What is lost is the deeper understanding of experience which can predict and help you avoid pitfalls that 40 hour experts will rarely ever see. Our society has become overly dependent and unconsciously confident because we all have a smart phone and Google to answer every question one could possibly present. Oh, if I had just had access to Google when I was a teenager, instead of the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, I could have been overwhelmingly smarter than my parents (just kidding mom).

There is a stepladder of understanding that takes a logical path from gaining information to achieving wisdom. At the bottom is a piece of information which basically tells us some small fact about the world. Just above that step is knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of how different little morsels of information all fit together to disclose some particular certainty about the world. Knowledge hinges on an act of association and clarification – it puts the information into its proper perspective.

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At the very top of this stepladder is finally wisdom. Wisdom is not just a deep knowledge (i.e., I read those crib assembly instructions ten freakin times and called two buddies about it), wisdom combines a moral component to knowledge. It is the application of information that is worth remembering and knowledge that matters to the understanding of not just how our world works, but also how it should work. Trump haters know all about this concept.

To have true wisdom, one requires a moral structure of what should and shouldn’t matter, as well as an idyllic vision of the world at its highest potentiality. And once you’ve achieved some wisdom, you must convince your ego that whatever wisdom you may have acquired, it is only wisdom about that one subject under that one set of circumstances. Throughout your life, there will be lots more work to do and many more subjects and circumstances to tackle.

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So while the fortune cookie, in its most basic form, can provide us with all the spiritual and motivational insights as our tummies and our appetite for Moo Goo Gai Pan can endure; the magical tickertape stuffed inside those cookies cannot by themselves offer us the true wisdom we all seek or need. It takes a lot of effort, a good heart, and the shedding of our narcissistic tendencies in order to recognize the depth of all that lie before us.

And sometimes, what we have before us are just ordinary people – people with unique experiences and information and failures and successes which are all different from our own. Yes, sometimes we are not allowed to have wisdom in certain areas because we can’t have experience in every area. In those cases, our wisdom comes from recognizing the value of other human beings around us.

Wisdom allows us the capacity to understand that mastery over any subject is outdated the very moment one achieves it. True wisdom is completely void of any independent identity. It is never about any one person or one group. It only exists in the collective because each of us contributes to the evolution of it every single day. Wisdom follows the doctrine of universal responsibility. It is akin to saying that every part of our body longs for our eyes, our lungs, our legs to be healthy; if one part suffers, we all suffer.

Work and living and parenting and every other important aspect of our lives are most positively affected by just being real. Being true to yourself in your profession, in your relationships, etc., allows you to function at your highest possible levels. Your wisdom will come from expending your energies and experiencing your world with a clear mind and an unambiguous path not littered by obstacles and chaos created by unrealistic expectations or less than honest intentions.

Lastly, I am no expert. I’m just a 53 year old husband and a hopelessly paternal dad, a placeholder of my job and a life-long old guy who loves to write about advice that I wish I could have ignored when I was young. My greatest achievement in life is that as my son gets older and more experienced, he is finally coming to realize that I may not have been as ignorant as I may have seemed. Which mainly means I’m now entitled to be as crappy as I want and still exceed all expectations.

News Makes You Fat

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In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 


Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.


News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

Bullying and Depression

One of the things I love about blogging is that the format is much more similar to a discussion than it is a story or news or whatever. It’s much more intimate and personal. We can address the things that are going on in our own lives or in the lives of people close to us and not necessarily have to wait for the next big national news event from which to launch our tirades or sweet-talks. Today I want to express my concerns about someone close to us about depression and bullying and offer a bit of advice.

 The biggest problem with being a young adult or adolescent is the fact that you’re, in many ways, an adult with adult brain power. You’re still in school which means you can still do long math, you can probably structure sentences better than most adults, and you can still recite State capitols and quote Shakespeare. All this mental flexibility makes us feel very bright and ready to take on the world. Our parents are the only adults we’re around enough to really compare our own intelligence to and what we see from them at home isn’t always the most representative of the whole person. So, we know we’re pretty smart like our adult parents but in many ways we’re still children, especially so when it comes to emotional intelligence. Your brain is literally wedged between a rock and a hard place.

 What your parents do have an abundance of (maybe…hopefully) that remains mostly unknown to you is the ability to cope with life’s up’s and down’s…a kind of emotional intelligence that we learn from surviving failure, betrayal, disappointments, infidelity, personal attacks, or the plethora of other lessons taught to us in high school and the work place, none of which that can be found in a textbook. Every single time we survive the next disaster, we sort of metamorphose into the next higher version of ourselves, shedding our thinner skins and growing a newer thicker one more capable than the last in defending ourselves or deflecting the danger away.  

 Without these skills, we’re left vulnerable and susceptible to all sorts of dehumanizing feelings that are sometimes strong enough to put us in a state of depression that can be so strong that it blinds us from finding a way out. It’s kinda like the dichotomy of needing a car to get a job and needing a job to get a car; we don’t always have the wherewithal to develop these coping skills when we need them most or when we’re most challenged by the pressures of growing up.

 When you’re gifted and smart, it’s way harder because you’re way more sensitive to right and wrong, you’re way more aware of how destructive the behavior is to you, and you’re way more perplexed at why you of all people cannot figure out how to solve the problem. Smart people have good ideas so you think you’re supposed to be able to solve these problems and yet you can’t. Not only is it emotionally damaging to be in the situation, but you’re simultaneously feeling insecure and unprepared to make it go away, maybe for the first time in your life. You begin to undermine your own intellect out of utter frustration at not being able to manage these feelings or solve your own problems.

 Depression is a humiliating human experience. Whether the result of bullying, stress, medical conditions or any number of other causes, the consequences are the same. Everyone experiences some form or degree of depression in their lives although some of us are better at shedding old skin than the rest.

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So, what we want to avoid is allowing a tumultuous situation to evolve into depression. If we allow it or if we don’t recognize the seriousness of our condition at a time when we can still think clearly, the ravages of clinical depression may creep into your life and take its toll on you and everyone around you. Whether you’re recognizing it or not (and some of us cannot), depression can turn intelligent, articulate and outgoing people into relative sleep-walkers and robots who can’t so much as wash a dish or change their socks.

 Depression can affect your ability to think clearly, to feel anything, to ascribe value to your own children, lifelong passions, and even your relative good fortune. On top of that, the usual medication for depression is usually some sort of psychotropic drug that helps your brain to quit feeling. So, not everyone does well with the drugs. There are both success and failure stories associated with the treatment of depression just like there are success and failure stories associated with the disease itself. I know people from both camps.

 Treated early enough, you can help to file the sharp edges of life away to help you focus on you and what is making you feel things so strongly. That doesn’t let you off the hook to solve your problems. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reconcile your stress with medical intervention, take your medically induced lucidity serious and work to bring final resolution to the things or situations or people who are causing you problems, even if that means writing that person off completely and moving on.

 If allowed to continue, depression has the ability to scoop out your normal healthy ability to cope with bad days and bad news, and replaces it with an unrecognizable muck that finds no pleasure, no delight, and no point in anything outside of a couch. You may alienate your friends at school because you can’t comport yourself socially, your job may be at risk because you can’t concentrate, and you may live in moderate squalor because you have no energy to stand up, let alone take out the garbage. Sometimes, we’re just not quite ready to grow up and accept all that comes with being an adult and sometimes it’s the opposite, we just need to get the hell out of an environment that might be choking off our air supply. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to emotion and life. 

 My deceased brother suffered from depression. His depression was the result of a psychological disorder that limited his ability to cope in many ways but that never stopped him from feeling – just as you and I do. The world, as viewed from my brother’s eyes, was different than it is to me or to you but he was still a human being who felt and loved and innately understood that he was making the people around him uncomfortable. Although he lost the ability to recognize his own responsibility for how he made others feel, he nonetheless understood fully how everyone suddenly became afraid of him. While his empath began to fade, his overall sensitivities were elevated which made him acutely aware of the world, his family, and how he saw himself fitting-in among everyone and everything around him.

 It’s so sad to think about someone with a mental illness who once had full-competency. To live in a world that you perceive as dangerous, but in ways that you alone can solve if people will just give your ideas a chance. To want nothing more than to protect the one’s you love but to then feel the rejection of your ideas and the pain associated with the recognition that everyone thinks you’re crazy. Depression can be the catalyst that manifests itself into this type of mental illness, especially if you have other stressors that are working synergistically against you.

 Sadly, people with severe depression start to become pathetic and they know it. It’s one of the least appreciated parts of the condition. Depression, if untreated, can manifest itself into more serious conditions leaving its victims with little or no capacity to stop the downward plunge they see as inevitable. They begin to lose all perspective, all emotional reserves, and have no faith that things will ever get better. So they begin to feel guilty and ashamed of their inability to deal with life like any regular human, which exacerbates the depression and the isolation.

 Those of us around the depressed grow increasingly insensitive because we don’t understand the logic of it all (There is no logic). We only see how our loved one’s condition negatively impacts our own lives. Our loved one’s problems can be so overwhelming sometimes that we just want to run away to escape what we see as unnecessary chaos. We become desensitized to the whole affair and even duck and evade our troubled loved ones in order to find some normalcy and solace in our avoidance of them. I’m guilty of that myself. The guilt associated with that avoidance can also be overwhelming. You find yourself either victimized by psychotic drama or by self-guilt for not wanting to subject yourself or your family to psychotic drama. No one wins.

 If you’ve never been depressed, give thanks to your DNA providers and back off the folks who need to take a pill just so they can make eye contact with the grocery store cashier. No one on earth would choose the nightmare of depression over a typically turbulent normal life. That said, normal life is typically turbulent and we all take a few fastballs to the chest occasionally; it’s all part of stepping up to the plate of life.

 As I’ve written about previously, if the weight of certain things are dragging you down instead of lifting you up then you should move on to the next thing. Looking straight into the eyes of each person or situation; you must decide if this is going to a part of your history or a part of your destiny. Discovering that you have the courage to move on from destructive forces or people contributes to the cultivation of our super-powers, resilience being one of those. Depression cannot thrive among resilience.

 Recognize that we’re all perfectly flawed. Yes, you’re a kind and sensitive person and you need a pill right now to help you cope. But, alternatively, the bully has way more problems than do you. If you really think about it, what type of false-reality is that person living in right now? How much further toward adulthood or success or realizing your dreams are you right now compared to him/her? That person has a long hard road ahead and reality is going to suck way worse for him/her than it is for you right now. If anything, you should be feeling sorry for them.

 Stop judging yourself unnecessarily. The person bullying you is likely so selfish and full of themselves right now that they don’t even believe they’re a bully, much less able to recognize how destructive they are to those around them. While you’re reconciling the bully, don’t fail to recognize your own responsibility in how these situations evolve and encompass everyone and everything around them. Don’t be guilty of believing that the “high road” is somehow conveyed by your absence or refusal to stand up for yourself. If chaos is met by silence, chaos still exists because it creeps into new places you would have never expected. It’s also not anger or retaliation that defeats chaos, its wisdom and order – which, BTW, also defeats depression.

Depression is not just an incapacity to cope with day to day living in the modern world. It’s an incapacity to function. No one chooses it. No one deserves it. It can run in families and it can ruin families. Most of us cannot imagine what it takes to feign normalcy. But that is exactly what victims of depression do every day. My goal is two-fold; I want to scare you into facing whatever it is that is luring you into depression, and, I want to help you and others empathize with those who are suffering now.

 Bullying is real. Just because you’ve never suffered from it doesn’t make it imaginary. The way you survive it is to confront it and just proudly announce that what is happening to you is hurtful, whether they care about or want to take responsibility for it or not and that you’re done worrying about it. There’s something profoundly powerful about vocalizing your intentions that has a way of making your words come true. If you tell them you’re done…you’re done. 

 

Good Luck.

A Ship Called Censor – History Erased

In quiet observance of some of our latest pop-culture absurdities, I found some useful truisms in an old Longfellow Psalm that I decided to doctor up a little bit with some Chris’isms. The moral of the story is multifaceted. First: Although you may be hurting individually or even as a community, history is always going to have winners and losers. That doesn’t mean we should erase the history so you can feel better about yourself. History belongs to everyone. We and our children learn from history, both good and bad.

Second: Our good history is another’s bad history. What makes you proud, hurts another. What you run away from, other’s run to. If history is hurting you and not healing you, grow up – history cannot by itself hurt you, you are hurting you. If we are successful at erasing the history that hurts us most, we’re putting our children in danger of becoming secondary victims of lessons we’ve already learned – then summarily lost.

Lastly, if you cannot find one morsel of empathy or logic in another’s alternative ideology, you’re not thinking deep enough. Although I may not agree 100% with everyone I encounter, I seldom hear any opinion with which I cannot somewhat empathize. Don’t be afraid to prove yourself wrong. It’s liberating to be wrong sometimes.

 

Tell me not, in mournful mobs,

Lives of past are empty dreams,

For the soul is dead and there are odds,

That things may not be what they seem.

 

History is real! History is earnest!

And the grave is surely not the goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

And risk forget our histories toll.

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our-destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

 

Life is long, and Time is fleeting

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Bull horns blaring, marches leading

Spray paint tags upon the grave.

 

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of our Life,

Be not dumb, like driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Dare not stray from living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

 

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

 

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A Forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

 

Men found great by time gone by,

May fall from favor, his deeds undressed,

Should we erase, exhume, untie;

History then becomes suppressed?

 

Lessons lost, apt be Repeated,

Our future yearns for all experience.

Selfishness prevails the child is cheated,

Insecurity manifests the devil’s deliverance.

 

Leave alone and let be the dead,

The shackles’ keys have long been lost.

Bronze and stone statues are tying threads,

And remind us of that fateful cost.

 

Change a name, tear down a marker,

Erase, redact, our right to censor.

Less enlightened – our world is darker.

Sympathy grows an incurable cancer.

 

Let, us then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor, learn to wait.

 

Let your deeds be yours

And not the elimination of another’s.

 

Idiocracy

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I had this subtle thought a few weeks back and I admit that I cannot for the life of me recall what happened to put these thoughts in my head but the gist of it was that I took the notion that people are definitely getting increasingly ignorant in this country. Scientific analysis actually confirms this theory, by the way, even more so than I’m comfortable admitting. It reminds me of the 2006 film “Idiocracy” where human evolution and natural selection had taken a seriously wrong turn and began to favor traits that weren’t necessarily the strongest, fittest, smartest or noblest. Evolution began to reward those who procreated at the highest rates and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.

To give you some idea of what to prepare for when you rent this movie on Netflix, here is some representative dialogue from the character Doctor and the movies’ Narrator: Doctor: “Don’t worry, scrote. There are plenty of ‘tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was ‘tarded. She’s a pilot now.” Narrator: “Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”

Oh yeah, now I remember why I had these thoughts. My friend Tony was telling me that he’d read a recent study explaining how a large percentage of PhD’s are choosing not to have children. The same study points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than women of lower intelligence. The conversation surrounding that study talked of the doom and gloom associated with that type of decision and how stupid people never seem to concern themselves with the logical considerations of having children they cannot afford to support, they just keep having more. Thus, the conversation evolved, sufficient inspiration is galvanized, voila é blog.

Then, when I began doing research for this particular blog I found out all kinds of things that made me wish I’d just wrote about ISIS or politics or anything less controversial. It seems that one of America’s foremost testing agencies, the Educational Testing Service, released a report about ten months ago that was quite shocking for me to read to say the least. It demonstrates that adult Americans, regardless of educational achievement are, as a group, less literate with respect to both words and numbers, and less capable of solving problems, than their counterparts throughout the industrialized world. Despite all efforts and the trillions of dollars we’re throwing at education, if anything, the problem of low achievement has worsened over time despite the fact that formal levels of educational attainment across the board have risen.

America has a higher emphasis on education than it ever has before, but Americans are, relatively speaking, clueless about the most basic knowledge needed to communicate effectively and make decisions in an increasingly complex market economy. Moreover, the millennials (those born after 1980) know less than their elders. To be a bit harsh, in America, we’re led to believe that the dumb just keep getting dumber. States, including Tennessee (my home State) are proposing dramatic changes to higher education including our own Drive to 55 program which plans to bolster the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and professional certificates but will these Euro-styled free educations work here when they’ve been disastrous in Europe?

I say that because in every European country that Emily and I have traveled where free two-year colleges are provided by the government, the locals there repeatedly say that those 2-year higher-Ed degrees essentially become more akin to high school diploma’s – the expected bottom level of achievement – while the value of undergraduate degrees become deeply eroded due to the systematic down-escalator of achievement requirements. Students worldwide are getting educated but are learning less. Higher education in America has mirrored the trend of general education…increasingly inefficient per dollars spent and progressively less effective. The lesson here, if the government gives it to you for free, it’s worth exactly what you’re paying for it.

Whatever is going on, it is having a profound effect on not only the intelligence level of the American population but also its ability to learn, process, reason, and think for itself. Are Americans really getting dumber? Statistics say yes. In 2011, the average American IQ was measured at 88.54. (Average intelligence is estimated to be 89-100.) This means that a large percentage of the American population is now considered below average intelligence! Also in 2011, a benchmark occurrence happened. For the first time in American history our children were less educated than their parents. In other words, as generational families have little by little strived to ensure their children enter and graduate college at higher rates than themselves – throughout the entire history of modern America – for the first time in 2011 the generation entering college shrunk from that of their parents.

Looking at this problem more specifically, among 24 developed countries in comparison, the U.S. millennials ranked surprisingly last in numeracy (along with Italy and Spain) as well as in “problem-solving in technology-rich environments”. The youngest examined, those 16 to 24 years of age, ranked dead last in mathematical ability (along with Italy). Even our “best and brightest” fared poorly. Looking specifically at numeracy, the scores of Americans aged 16-to-34 years ranked in the top 10 percentile of U.S. students taking the test, the score of 323 was statistically below the average of 334, and even more below that of such industrial competitors as neighboring Canada (336) , Japan (342), or Sweden (346).

Worse are those in the bottom 10th percentile. The U.S. numeracy scores for that group for those 16 to 34 were the freakin lowest in the world – no one else was even close. As a consequence, the gap between high and lower performers was far greater in the U.S than in the group of developed countries as a whole, and bigger than in any other nation. Borrowing again from the movie Idiocracy: Private Joe Bowers“…and there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!”

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So, is it because we have this growing inner-city elementary and secondary school problem in America that is systematically denying our countries underprivileged of a decent education? No not really. Our problem is way bigger than that. Our suburban, rural and privileged students in America are doing poorly too. The American phenomenon is definitely not a lack of formal schooling – we are above the average in that regard, even with respect to higher education. The problem is we impart less learning per year of schooling than almost all other major nations in the world and colleges are far from immune to these charges. To quote the report verbatim, “U.S. millennials with a four-year bachelor’s degree scored higher than their counterparts in only two countries: Poland and Spain. Our most educated – those with a master’s or research degree – scored higher than their peers only in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.”

So the problem is not simply bankrupt inner-city elementary and secondary schools, where the educational care of students borders on the criminally negligent. The problem also persists in our colleges and universities, where master’s level students with years of collegiate training are far poorer than their industrial world counterparts in such core knowledge as basic numeracy. It’s not just the Degree-Mart’s of the world where you can get online degrees served hot or cold, it’s our state colleges and our ivy-league universities alike. Our children are bringing home 100’s on tests and our young adults are graduating with honors, just like all the others before them, it’s just that the high grade of today’s education system is irrelevant to whether the student is actually learning the things they need to learn.

My grandfather may have done better in chemistry than I did but perhaps it’s easier to memorize a periodic table with 11 elements than it is one with 118. Maybe he was smarter in the ways of science and math but he also thought it was perfectly acceptable for black people to drink out of different public water fountains whereas I do not. My grandfather lived in an era when we believed that Gay men were these unicorn like humanoids who would come out of their cocoons for a few years, marry Liza Minnelli, then disappear. I’m being ignorant, of course, but I’m trying to point out that there are plenty of areas where I believe Millennials are far and away smarter than the people we’ve coined “The Greatest Generation”. Yes we’re becoming more tolerant and that is a wonderful thing but what important data is being pushed out our ears as all this emotional intelligence is being added to the top.

We have to ask ourselves why America is doing so poorly. It is definitely NOT lack of money. Our spending-per-pupil levels compare favorably at the K-12 levels, and we blow the world away in per-student higher education spending. In part, the answer relates to a growing disdain for learning facts, basic concepts, historical references, etc. It is reflected at the collegiate level in a decline in the relative importance of general education, and of core liberal-arts type learning. The “self-esteem” movement and the idea that we should not say anything “hurtful” to students is a further manifestation that education is increasingly viewed as less about learning and more about “feelings.” Everyone is a winner in my school – not to say that you guys are losers or anything.

We suffer as a country for much of the same reasons. The same political correct movement that teaches us that all children should win every game and that self-esteem is what we give children – not what they give themselves – has become so powerful that we can no longer point out potentially socially divisive situations for fear of being ostracized as being insensitive or an ogre, a bigot, racist, homophobe, or anti-Muslim/Christian/Semitic. We’d rather put our citizens at risk of being a target of terrorism than admit that some Muslims might be taking Quran 2:191-193 just a little too serious.

Does this sentence make my Fatwa look too Mufti? Our government, in fear of ostracizing anyone entering our country from an Arab State, creates a system of torture for law abiding citizens at our airports. Background checks on immigrants might make us seem bigoted so please just remove your shoes and underwear for the gloved inspector.

Some studies indicate that the I.Q.’s of Westerners have dropped 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era. Other studies say that our I.Q.’s scores are rising at a remarkable rate. Could it be that it’s just our genetic potential that is changing or perhaps that we’re being judged today on antiquated standards? I mean seriously, smarts cannot simply be defined as just one thing. What makes a person clever on the African Savannah could be nearly useless in the financial centers of New York City. It’s not just a matter of intelligence going up or down, different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.

A 1912 8th grade test from the State of Kentucky indicates that 8th graders once could tell us “through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?”, or, “How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?”, or, spelling words such as pennyweight and bequeath. But, wouldn’t 8th graders from 1912 be equally stumped if we asked them to explain a DNA sequence or Supercolliders? We’ve come a very long way from barnacles and botany to nanotechnology and wormholes and who uses the word pennyweight anymore?

Our everyday vocabulary alone is full of neologisms, expressing ideas that we wouldn’t have even imagined a few years ago (i.e., Have you Googled it yet?)(i.e., I’m blogging about neologisms.) Although the standards are a moving target for sure, one thing that can be certain is that we very quickly lose abilities when we no longer need them. A great example of that fact is that my own ability to recall telephone numbers in the 80’s was astonishing. Now that I have a robot in my pocket that remembers thousands of numbers and faces, I no longer have the ability to remember phone numbers.

Comparatively, most of us have lost much of what would have been considered to be common knowledge in the 1920’s but I believe our 1920’s counterparts would be equally lost in today’s world. One would have hoped that we would carry over all that previous knowledge into each next generation only adding and building onto base knowledge as we evolve further. But that is apparently not possible. Perhaps our brains are only capable of carrying around just so much information. The Victorians lost what was common of the Baroque Era and they had lost much of the Renaissance standards and the Middle Ages saw mass exoduses of the intelligence from Roman times and so on and so forth.

Now, neuro-scientists refer to our brain’s Amygdala as the reptilian brain only because we know it to hold all of these deep instinctive and intuitional survival mechanisms that we’ve completely lost all first-hand knowledge about. I.Q. is always going to be relative to the society that we live within. Average I.Q. is always going to be 100 no matter how advanced or devolved we become. It is more a measure of “how” you know, not “what” you know – Megahertz not Megabytes. Said differently, a caveman could have had an I.Q. of 180 simply by being the only one who could start a fire. Fire is of course not considered to be an advanced science today but it once was the 3D printer of the Neolithic Revolution.

All that said, it appears we have dug ourselves into this deep dark education hole that we’re going to have to learn more about then teach ourselves how not to teach. One has to wonder about whether all of the most modern educational benchmarks set on teachers by which we’re supposed to be able to measure their effectiveness has spawned educational programming that is designed to disguise the failures of children and teachers.

An example might be that children are no longer required to learn cursive writing. Another example is that we now teach our children to memorize words without actually teaching them what those words actually mean, their derivatives in foundation languages (Greek, Latin, Germanic, etc.) or how the word can be used alternatively. It seems the common denominator among students using Common Core is remedial studies. In my opinion, Common Core creates nothing but commonness.

Another aspect of this so far unexplored is this growing trend of anti-intellectualism, anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science that has been infused into the modern political and social fabric of America. The greater emphasis we put on acceptance of everything and the stronger we push ourselves away from traditionally conservative value systems the more we feel compelled to join this cult of ignorance nurtured by the false notion that real democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge – my poor conditions are equally as valuable to society as your high standards – my failure to take life seriously has significance that pars your diligence and responsibility to yourself and your community.

We get all caught up in the fight for equality, not realizing that the focus we place on one group shades out the light to other groups. We’ve never seemed to learn exactly how to be kind and respectful to all cultures, groups, ideologies, and religions all at the same time. Today we’re focused on the issue of gay marriage and of course that is an important issue, but, its way more important to gay couples than it is to non-gay couples. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn and grow as a human being during the discussion. We need to be able to learn, fix things, and then move on without denigrating another’s belief systems in the process.

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Similarly, the issues of race seem to be explosive right now. How on earth, when most white people have no concept of racial inequality, can we be having these kinds of problems in America? I’ll tell you what I believe…education. The collapse of our education system has become the new Jim Crow, incubators of criminal behavior by means of failure and lack of self-esteem. They’re becoming conveyor belts into the nation’s prison system. The stigma attached to felony drug convictions eliminates employment opportunities for those who take this path then we and they are stuck into a life of crime.

So, if you’re black, perhaps you have a different perception of how great things are for black people in 2015. White people are running as fast as they can away from any conversations about race or equality because they’re woefully unprepared and mostly in denial. We just point to affirmative action and ask “what’s the problem?” But, the problem is bigger than that. If things are bad for white kids in suburban schools, imagine how bad it is for black kids in inner-city schools. They’re not the ones using the affirmative action programs. It’s the upper middle class and above black kids that are trying to get into ivy-league schools who are using the affirmative action benefits. Sadly, if you’re reading my blog, I doubt your kids are attending an Ivy-league school so what does it matter?

I’ll admit a bit of cynicism here but doesn’t this breakdown of consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good thing actually put this generation in a position to trust least the people who best know what they are talking about? In this new media age, everybody is an expert. Just Google it. There seems to be this universal suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization. We don’t seem to be as concerned with educating people anymore. We just train them to get jobs.

Our teachers are skimming through the most basic elements of curricula without focusing on the one thing that turns aptitude into intelligence, a students’ mastery over the basics, before moving on to the next topic. Public schools are the biggest bureaucratic budget item in every city or county. They have little accountability to the general public, and their marching orders come from State and National think-tank’s, not local and regional stakeholders.

History textbooks are badly written and so politically correct that they’re more like comic books than school books. Minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable attention while people of major consequence like Thomas Edison are given very little space at all. Pop culture icons and minorities have their sensibilities massaged into the new history which is taught in categories like Women’s History, African American History, Environmental History, etc., so that many students have no sense of chronology, no idea what followed what.

If generations graduate high school not knowing our past, do not know who we are or what we have done as a people, how will they know and love America, rebut her enemies or lead her confidently? We’re more likely to accept the excuse that Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program overemphasized math and reading so that’s why our children are failing in history. We buy this kind of nonsense when of 31,000 students tested by the National Assessment of Education Progress, most fourth-graders could not identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a reason why he was important.

High school seniors given an excerpt from the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education – “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate education facilities are inherently unequal” then asked what social problem the court was seeking to correct, only 2 percent of high school seniors answered “segregation” when the answer was right in front of them. We can no longer isolate education from politics because we’ve allowed one political party to take ownership in all things education. But, the issues we’re seeing in public education are the fault of everyone and the responsibility of everyone. It’s too big to blame on a party. We have to be bigger than that. We must de-politicize education before we can fix it.

Schools have also become incredibly inefficient with tax dollars, riddled with group-think ideology, and are perpetually searching for ways to spend more without any accountability in terms of success versus cost. What other group could survive these kinds of epic failures yet continually convince the general public that if they just had less portables and higher wages then they’d be able to show us real success? It has become so politically incorrect to chastise the school system so that local politicians have learned to just leave them alone for fear of the whole group banning together to oust them from office. We can’t criticize schools or else we’re pinned as being radical and uninformed.

It is exactly this kind of power that has shielded our education system from all accountability. Like some great big anti-trust violation, school boards have taken the path of big corporate monopolies – starving out ideas and innovation in favor of the status-quo. If you take nothing else from this blog, know that that teachers are not the problem here. Our problems lie in a quagmire of bureaucratic dogma pushed downward from modern idealists desperate to dazzle us with new theories on education when 1912 techniques will do us just fine until we catch up with our Great Grandparents. I won’t even attempt to say why or how because I’m one of those Americans who might be missing his 14 I.Q. points.

Since I’m nowhere near informed or educated enough to offer any solution for all these issues, I’ve decided to let “Doctor” from the movie Idiocracy wrap this blog up as I’m certain he can articulate my fears much clearer than I ever could and potentially entertain you at the same time. Doctor: “…Well, don’t want to sound like a dick or nothin’, but, ah… it says on your chart that you’re fu**ed up. Ah, you talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded. What I’d do, is just like… like… you know, you know what I mean, like…? Ditto!