Friday, July 4, 2014

Solo Flight, Crash Landing

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” -- Blaise Pascal
The wisdom of past thinkers and writers continually amazes me. Shakespeare's work is matched perhaps only by the Bible as the greatest single catalog of human nature.

Human nature does not change. Practically every social good and ill we now live with existed in the time of The Bard, and even further back when Moses was leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Still, I read this, and I wonder if technology is changing us. Human beings have continually adapted with time and circumstances, but are we going through some kind of hyper-change, perhaps due to the unprecedented torrent of technology?

Consider this headline from Yahoo:

Time Alone? Many Would Rather Hurt Themselves
Washington (AFP) - Many people would rather inflict pain on themselves than spend 15 minutes in a room with nothing to do but think, according to a US study out Thursday.
Dive into the article, and it delivers on the headline. In limited experiments, over half of the people who agreed to sit quietly with no distractions for 15 minutes couldn't do it without checking their phones, listening to music, etc.

Another group had their toys taken away, but were given the capability to shock themselves with a charge equivalent to an uncomfortable static electricity zap. 66% of male subjects and 25% of female subjects shocked themselves one or more times during the 15 minute period of solitude.
“Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." -- Blaise Pascal
If you distract yourself from yourself, are you still yourself?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Human Condition is not a Medical Disorder

“Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as an affective or feeling animal. Perhaps that which differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason.  -- Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life
Ted Gup, grieving over the death of his son, regrets that he "colluded with a system that devalues talking therapy and rushes to medicate," treating the human condition as a medical disorder that must be drugged:
"Ours is an age in which the airwaves and media are one large drug emporium that claims to fix everything from sleep to sex. I fear that being human is itself fast becoming a condition. It’s as if we are trying to contain grief, and the absolute pain of a loss like mine. We have become increasingly disassociated and estranged from the patterns of life and death, uncomfortable with the messiness of our own humanity, aging and, ultimately, mortality.

Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely. Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.

The D.S.M. would do well to recognize that a broken heart is not a medical condition, and that medication is ill-suited to repair some tears. Time does not heal all wounds, closure is a fiction, and so too is the notion that God never asks of us more than we can bear. Enduring the unbearable is sometimes exactly what life asks of us."

Source:  NYT - Diagnosis:  Human, by Ted Gup

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Flip this Story

Everyone has a story inside of them.  Some of us have many.  Would you compromise yours to be commercially successful?

Let's face it.  Most of the stories we hatch in our brains are not immediately brilliant and compelling like say, The Help or The Hunger Games.  Those books tell a gripping story with important underlying themes, and they are commercially successful.  That's solid gold for a writer.

Why Do You Write?

Some writing books and blogs will tell the aspiring writer to sit down and examine your reasons for writing this story. I didn’t understand that at the time I read it, but I do now. As one author put it, you may be better off writing an essay or memoir that clearly expresses your thoughts and feelings, even though they will never see wide publication.

With the technology we have now, anyone can produce a book, and you may be a brilliant writer who has a collection of handed-down family stories. Unless you can elevate the concept and mold the stories into a dramatically-compelling story arc, the collection is likely of no interest to a commercial audience, but your family would love you for writing such a work and having books pressed for them to read and pass on.

What do you think of that?  Would that reward you?  It's a tough questions for writers who asipre to be commercially-published and widely-read.

Sometimes you just have something inside you that must come out, so you write. The trick is, if you want it to be commercially viable, you’ve got to follow some rules of the industry, unless you are one of those rare, wickedly gifted writers who can take readers on a stolen Ferarri joyride of literary rule breaking without making them puke on the upholstery or fly out of the car on a sharp turn.

Are you writing a story you hope to see published?

If so, ask yourself this:  If someone were to suggest a change that had a high probability of making your story commercially-viable, but the change compromised your thematic intent, your very dream and vision of what you want the story to be, would you do it?

Say you're a Huey Lewis fan and you want your story to be about the power of love, but agents, editors and publishers tell you that you have to compromise on that and make it about the power of power in order to get published.

You have a decision: Make the change and have a shot, or stick to your artistic vision and most likely doom the project to an odd curiosity you drag out and bore people with in your old age.

I can understand someone making either decision. Can you?

This is why authors like Tom Wolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell stand the test of time. They could write about deep themes that resonated with them and make it compelling, although many accuse Huxley of crafting thin stories upon which he hangs his heavy philosophies. Vonnegut was accused of the same in his final works. Although I’m a big fan of both authors, I can see it. (Huxley: Island. Vonnegut: Galapagos)

I can’t remember who said it, but he was right: Writing is hard.

It should be clear to you that I wrote this not to teach, but to listen and be taught by others.  My only conclusion is this:  If you have a story with a compelling message, and you craft it well, you won't have to compromise.

* * *

What inspired this?  Larry Brooks - StoryFix

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Anything more than Nasty, Brutish and Short is Icing on the Cake

Blogger Ben Sutherland recently wrote about life being FUBAR. He is so right that life is broken, and to an idealist that realization can be very depressing. I have a real problem with people who believe in the perfectibility of man. Spending a little time in Ben's world of special education on the wrong side of the tracks would quickly disabuse the naive of this notion.

The world is broken and nobody can fix it. All each person can do is to try to illuminate the little corner they are in. Look at the world: Pinprick sparkles of civilization scattered across a sea of Hobbesean brutality. To not be upset about it is to surrender your humanity. Obsessing over it can cause you to lose your sanity. The trick is to not let it drive you crazy or deter you from keeping your own little corner bright and clean.

Ever read "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Hemingway?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How to Save a Life

Sgt 1st Class Greg Stube almost lost his life in the battle of Sperwan Gar, west of Kandahar. His guts were blown out by a rocket and he lost a leg. His life was saved by a man he had refused to let graduate when he was an instructor at the Special Warfare School and Center at Ft Bragg. He gave the man a choice: Go home (back to the regular Army) or go through the course again. The man chose the second option, and ended up saving Sgt Stube's life.

It's not very often a man gets to pick his savior, to shape an outside influence that will one day drag him from death's door. Sgt Stube was not given this opportunity: He made it by his own positive action, by demanding nothing but the best from his teammates. His teammate also embraced his destiny by not giving up on his dream to be an SF troop.

This is what makes the US military the greatest, most successful institution in the United States, perhaps the world. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines demand nothing but the best from themselves and their fellow warriors. Special forces even more so. Slack off, and the organization will spit you out on the street.

We can control what goes on around us. To believe otherwise is to surrender to despair

Self: Never stop growing or learning. Give it all or go home.

Family: Demand the best from your children, or you may be supporting them in your old age instead of vice versa.

Vocation: Demand the best from your coworker or your company may end up like GM

Faith: Demand the best from your pastors (and pastors, from your fellow pastors!) or you may end up embarrassed like Ted Haggard's New Life Church or bankrupt like many Catholic Dioceses who had not the courage to face the evil in their own midst.

Government: Demand efficient use of resources and courageous leadership from your politicians or your country will end up, well... where it is now.

We can control our own destinies if we have the courage to persevere regardless of circumstances and demand that those around us do as well.

What Makes A Hero?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Che and Churchill: There's a Little Eichmann in All of Us

How does a Ward Churchill happen?

I was fascinated by indians and the west when I was a young boy living in Illinois. I roamed my uncle's timber in the Dean Hills with my .22, and canoed down The Kaskaskia River, camping under the stars, fishing, and gigging frogs as I went.

But I really wanted to do all that out west, in the Rocky Mountains. Maybe similar childhood fantasies are what drove fellow Illinoisan Ward Churchill to go off the deep end with the whole hippie-radical-Indian thing.

It's easy to call him a charlatan, because the facts bear this out.  But that is too simple. Perhaps his his goals were noble. There used to be few blacks out west, so Native Americans had to stand in as the despised minority once the Chinese went mainstream. So a good western hippie took up the cause of the red man.

I didn't get to see Boulder until the 1980's, but I'm sure Ward fit that scene well back in the 60's, with his fiery intellectualism and Indian braids. I can see how he could get so into it that he ended up deluding himself and authentically become the fantasy he had created.

What I don't understand is how the CU Board of Regents fell for it
You can call yourself an Indian and declare the 9/11 victims "little Eichmanns," but you'd better have your academic credentials in order.

I hold nothing against hippies. I wanted to be one when I was a kid. But then I grew up. Even then, I could not resist hitching to Boulder when The Dead came to town. I would spend the whole weekend joining throngs of deadheads playing guitars and banging tambourines on Pearl Street. I always found some hippies willing to take me in. They didn't even mind me refusing the dope.

Later on, I made many friends in Latin America who were self-avowed socialist and leftists who idolized Castro and El Che, and who still spoke bitterly about what Pinochet did to Allende. Like my hippie friends, all sincere people.

Bring it all down, man!

But there are many on the left preaching peace and brotherhood who would do great violence to achieve this dream. Che Guevara killed poor campesinos. Is it any wonder the good folks of Higuera dropped a dime on his murdering ass? Leftist hagiography also avoids the documented evidence that Salvador Allende was becoming increaslingly infatuated with violence and accumulating arms before his downfall.

There are people on the right itching t
o set it all "right" with violence as well. I'm not saying anybody's better than anyone else. It's just that so much of this on the left gets overlooked or romanticized while the right is inevitably tied to Hitler.

Hitler was not a "Right-Winger" anyway. He embodied a Nietzchean overthrow of traditional religion-based morality while indulging himself and his adopted countrymen in in a grotesque twist of Rousseau's back-to-nature romanticism, with Wagner blaring in the background. Hardly conservative.

We are flawed human beings, searching for the truth. When we think we've found it, we have a strong desire to impose it on others.

There's a little Eichmann in all of us, including Ward Churchill.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Peace and Freedom through Anarchy

What is freedom? What is libertarianism? Can anarchy bring peace?

I find libertarianism attractive in the abstract, but sometimes jarring in the cold glare of reality. It doesn't help that I recently read that it grew out of anarchism, but it does make sense that the logical end of libertarianism is anarchy.

Libertarianism makes striking sense in that simplistic "if everybody minded their own business we'd all get along" kind of way. But what really impresses me about this ideology is its logical coherence.

Stephen Kinsella has written an interesting piece reducing all individual rights down to property rights and then showing how this is the key to peace and happiness.

As Murray Rothbard explained, individual rights are property rights.[2] And justice is just giving someone his due, which depends on what his rights are.[3]
The nonaggression principle is also dependent on property rights, since what aggression is depends on what our (property) rights are. If you hit me, it is aggression because I have a property right in my body. If I take from you the apple you possess, this is trespass — aggression — only because you own the apple. One cannot identify an act of aggression without implicitly assigning a corresponding property right to the victim.
I find this idea intriguing because it bolsters the case against an overweening government as well as against invasions and wars of aggression. I am against both, but I have participated in the latter. I love things that rip your mind in two different directions.

If a state pays for you and decides for you, it owns you, and your rights disappear because you become de facto property of the state. That applies to citizens as well as invaded countries. And the motivation of the aggressor state does not matter. It could have the best of intentions, but you are still violated.

Anyway, I recommend Mr. Kinsella's article. It's good food for thought.

Mises - Stephan Kinsella

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
-- by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Easy enough said when someone has been stricken, so strong only a day ago, and now laboriously breathing upon perhaps her deathbed.

A woman I have loved my whole life lays dying, and I do not want her to rage against the dying of the light.  I pray she go gently.  She is old, and at last frail, after a beautiful, robust life that began in the great depression.  Her health has been failing for years, eyesight, agility, but I've known enough old people to know that losing one's independence is the coup de grace.  That is when even the most potent zest for life begins to wane.

She had that grandma's way of making you feel special.  I was a little shrimp, but she would compliment me on what a big guy I was.  She'd send me to fetch her big tupperware container of flour to the kitchen table for her and compliment me on how strong I was and ask me to show her my muscles.  When I started driving, I'd get a call from granny every now and then asking me to come over so she could scold me about my reckless driving, and then ironically insist I sit down with her and Grandpa and watch The Dukes of Hazard, with all that reckless driving going on...


I wrote this over a year ago when my granny was slowly fading away, but I couldn't finish it.  Now, my wife's mother is on her deathbed, and, save for a few particulars, my words apply to her as well.  She is ready.  She has told her children many times over these past few months.

Go gentle, dear mother.  I love you as though you were my own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Abnormal Psychology

"If 7-year-old Mozart tried composing his concertos today, he might be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and medicated into barren normality."
-- George Will
They pegged my son as ADHD a few years back.  The psychologists ignored the fact that I was deployed to the Middle East for a year and that he may have been worried about his dad getting killed in a war he saw every day on the news.  They also failed to realize he was bored.

We addressed it all when I got back.  I was angered at the eagerness of these "professionals" to push drugs on a 9 year old.  The only good that came of it was a comprehensive "IQ" test we paid for ourselves because it was not covered by insurance.  Yes, he scored a little low on short term memory retention (imagine that, a 9 year old not paying attention!).  We also found out that although he was no genius, he was advanced for the classes he was taking.

ADHD is Real, But Drugs are not the Answer

We turned down the offer from the drug pushers (my son being the most adamant) and followed the advice of anti-drug heroes Dr David Stein and Thom Hartmann.  These two men are essential reading for parents who have been told their kids have ADHD.  Hartmann's The Edison Gene will help you understand the ADHD child so you can develop strategies for success.  Dr. Stein dispenses practical advice on how to parent an ADHD child, from schoolwork to behavioral issues. 

We bought him an electronics kit, a programmable Mindstorm robot, gave him a violin and let him join orchestra, and we had him tested into advanced classes.  Add in karate, and a crisis was now a manageable minor issue.  He was now a normal, rambunctious inquisitive, annoying 9-year-old boy, who is prone to forgetfulness.

George Will turns his incisive analysis on psychology in America:
The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry's encyclopedia of supposed mental "disorders," is being revised

Today's DSM defines "oppositional defiant disorder" as a pattern of "negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures." Symptoms include "often loses temper," "often deliberately annoys people" or "is often touchy."

DSM omits this symptom: "is a teenager."
Disordered Nation
This DSM defines as "personality disorders" attributes that once were considered character flaws.

"Antisocial personality disorder" is "a pervasive pattern of disregard for ... the rights of others ... callous, cynical ... an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal." "Histrionic personality disorder" is "excessive emotionality and attention-seeking." "Narcissistic personality disorder" involves "grandiosity, need for admiration ... boastful and pretentious." And so on.
You mean sex addiction isn't normal?
The revised DSM reportedly may include "binge eating disorder" and "hypersexual disorder" ("a great deal of time" devoted to "sexual fantasies and urges" and "planning for and engaging in sexual behavior"). Concerning children, there might be "temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria."
Why should we care?
If every character blemish or emotional turbulence is a "disorder" akin to a physical disability, legal accommodations are mandatory.

Under federal law, "disabilities" include any "mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities"; "mental impairments" include "emotional or mental illness." So there might be a legal entitlement to be a jerk. (See above, "antisocial personality disorder.")
Bottom Line:   We all Pay

All of this must be covered by insurance, causing all of us to pay higher premiums so psychologists can rake in more money, based upon a book they wrote.  Talk about a self-licking ice cream cone.  Anyone who suffers any of these "disorders" must be given special dispensations at school and at work, creating perverse incentives to be "disordered."

We are paying for our own downfall.  That's disordered.

*-There really are some disorders that require medication.  I am criticizing abuses of the system, not the treatment of legitimate problems. --Curt

RCP - George Will
Thom Hartmann

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Intellectual Honesty

I've had more than a few visitors snort derisively at my claim of intellectual honesty because I believe in God yet also cherish logic. These arrogant atheists think they're smarter than Kant, Pascal and Descartes; men who taught us much about logic yet still believed in an Almighty Creator.

My understanding of intellectual honesty is that you don't purposely distort or hide information in the course of communicating with others. Politicians do this all the time.

The manufactured outrage over the AIG bonuses that the 2009 stimulus bill authorized is the latest example. Instead of explaining why the bonuses are needed to retain people to defuse the bomb that they built, exploiters fan the flames of voter anger. They know the real story but withhold information for their own political advantage. That is intellectually dishonest, as well as cowardly.

Here is the WikiHow definition of intellectual honesty that my God-scoffing critics cling to:

Keeping one's convictions in proportion to one's valid evidence
By this definition, an intellectually honest person who demands concrete proof cannot believe in God because all we have is personal testimony. But going down the road of Human Logic Uber Alles eventually leads to absurdity. How do you know your wife is not cheating on you when you can't see her? How do you know your truck is still in the garage when you're laying in bed at night? How do you know the Battle of Hastings really happened? How do you know 2 + 2 doesn't conspire to make 5 when no one is looking? See where this leads?

I like the University of California at Irvine's definition much better:

Honesty in the acquisition, analysis, and transmission of ideas.
Jewish World elaborates:
One of the hallmarks of our great Torah scholars throughout the generations has been the uncompromising loyalty to the concept of intellectual honesty in their writings and commentaries. One would almost take this for granted, for the subject that is being dealt with is Torat Emet -- the Torah of Sinai itself, that to Jews represents ultimate and eternal truth and honesty.
Nevertheless, the temptation to falsify, exaggerate, deny, plagiarize and even commit forgery is a well-known affliction in general academic circles. As such, the unswerving path of intellectual honesty that one finds in the writings of the great Torah scholars is exemplary and inspiring.
This is the intellectual honesty I'm after. No matter how much I believe in some cause or idea, I will sincerely evaluate information that contradicts it, and I will never make stuff up or use dubious information to bolster my case. Cold, hard logic is beautiful to me, it is the clockwork of life, but it is not an end unto itself. Just because the human mind is incapable of apprehending something doesn't mean it's not there.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Michael Vick's Dogged Determinism

Should Michael Vick be allowed to play football again?

I think so. A man's livelihood is an important part of who he is. What else can Vick do to support himself and his family? Star in a real-life remake of The Longest Yard? He is a gifted athlete. Hanging drywall, while beneficial to society and those professionals who do it, would be grossly unfulfilling for this formerly high-flying falcon. A man of his talents must be free to exercise them.

Allowing him to be an NFL quarterback again would not be condoning his actions. Rather, it would be an acknowledgment that he has paid his debt to society and to the animal kingdom. If a society punishes someone, it should also hold out redemption.

Is he repentant? Who knows. If we take him at his word, he has learned some valuable life lessons. The average ex-con doesn't have the skills or talents to put his life back together; Michael Vick does.

Would I trust him to stay in my house and watch my dog? I don't know... I do know that giving him a chance to prove himself on the gridiron again costs me nothing; that's why I advocate giving him another shot at NFL superstardom. We as a society bear no risk; it's all on Michael Vick and the NFL, so why not?

The NFL is a gansta joint anyway, so bringing Vick back can only increase the multi-billion dollar revenue stream that flows inexorably from the unemployed and working class to the millionaire owners and players. A dog's gotta bark, a quarterback's gotta throw a football, and the fans gotta cheer.

Who are we to stand in the way of destiny?