John D. Rockefeller – Sinner or Saint?

A way to a man’s heart is through sex, food, and Ron Chernow books. The last one is probably particular to me, but thankfully my wife knows me very well; for Christmas last year she bought me Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr by – you guessed who – Ron Chernow. I first became interested in Rockefeller after watching the History Channel series The Men Who Built America which profiles the dominant imperialists of the Gilded Age. The History Channel usually churns out complete garbage, but this show was actually informative and entertaining – compared to the ubiquitous alien conspiracy theory shows. Rockefeller is one of the most complicated men I have ever read about and hence Chernow’s biography of him took up a mammoth 700 pages.

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Rockefeller, unlike Vanderbilt or JP Morgan, was not your typical Rober Baron who accumulated money for the sake of hedonism. Wealth and success to Rockefeller represented God’s blessings – blessings which could not be squandered. He lived a simple life relative to his fortune which in today’s money was worth 400 billion dollars. Oil was the foundation of that fortune and for decades his company, Standard Oil, dominated the global refining business. With vast wealth comes enormous controversy – Rockefeller was a ruthless businessman who negotiated unfair trade deals with the railroads – squeezing out small refiners in the process. These shady business practices were during a time when industry was mostly unregulated in America. Ida Tarbell, the famous Muckraker journalist, vilified Rockefeller – subsequently rallying public opinion and the US government to break up Standard Oil’s monopoly. Ironically, the break up of Standard Oil made Rockefeller even wealthier – he continued to own large shares of his stepchildren’s companies still known today: Exxon, Mobil, Amoco, Chevron, Sun, Conoco.

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Rockefeller stepped away from the oil business in his late 50’s and enjoyed a long retirement of philanthropy. Thanks to several Rockefeller foundations, the fields of education, medicine, and research were expanded. It can be argued that the United States world-renowned college system is a direct result of Rockefeller – he set the standard for medical research and founded the prestigious University of Chicago. Before Rockefeller, the state of medicine in the US was that of snake oil salesman – after Rockefeller medicine evolved into a rigorous scientific discipline. Some would question whether we should support philanthropy from “dirty” oil money? I would argue that Rockefeller made business decisions like a strict father; they were harsh but many times fair, as the oil business was in large part saved by Rockefeller’s big thinking principles. During the financial crises of the late 19th century, many small refiners went bust all while Standard Oil maintained record low prices for the consumer. Capitalism is tough and Rockefeller was one of the toughest. When we critique his decisions, we must look at things contextually. Rockefeller was not without blame, but I don’t think that his legacy is one of a sinner. I think his legacy is complicated and the fairest assessment should come from his opponents…

“The press, once hostile to him, formed his biggest cheering section. ‘It is doubful whether any private individual has ever spent a great fortune more wisely than Mr. Rockefeller,’ Pulitzer’s World editorialized in 1923, while the Hearst press, not to be outdone, states, ‘The Rockefellers have given away more money and to better advantage than anybody else in the world’s history since the ark stranded on Ararat.'”

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I believe that Rockefeller is no saint when compared to the world as a whole…but maybe a saint when compared to the wealthiest individuals in the history of the world. Excessive wealth usually corrupts and leaves no positive legacy. Rockefeller following his religious views used each penny wisely. Those pennies may have been tainted, but in the end, they were shined up for a noble purpose; a purpose which Rockefeller pursued until his death at 97 years old. So what’s your verdict? Was Rockefeller a sinner or a saint?

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Literature vs. Netflix

I am still trudging along with my goal of reading all 1,300 Penguin Classics. The past couple days I have been discouraged with the journey, and I started to question as to why I was taking on the behemoth. Why should I read the classics when there are so many great modern books? Why should I waste my time with fiction when there is so much nonfiction? Why should I read at all when there is Netflix? These questions are bombarding me because of my current book – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is the longest classic ever written at over 500,000 words – this blog post is only 500 words. I am actually listening to it via a 7 part audiobook with Christina – I couldn’t pronounce all the French words and having a narrator prevents us from skimming. The length of Les Mis got me discouraged and made me question whether I wanted to accomplish my classics goal.

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Something strange happened this week that totally changed my outlook. One of my favorite modern philosophers is Nassim Nicholas Taleb – I am currently reading his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. This book is about skeptical empiricism and the idea that what we “don’t know” is more important then what we “do know.” I wasn’t expecting anything related to the classics in Taleb’s book – but through the oddest coincidence – there was a whole chapter on the importance of classical literature. Taleb talked about a mathematical principle that predicts the lifespan of something based on its current age. For books, this means that the age of a book directly predicts how long it will be around into the future. A two-thousand-year-old book like The Iliad will most likely be around two thousand years from now compared to a book like Fifty Shades of Grey. Added to this is the idea of cultural selection. The world has seen billions of books – the ones that are still in print are the ones who transcend the average. This transcendence is due to the relationship between literature and the indescribable human experience. Taleb describes the concept below.

 … Fiction is a certain packaging of the truth, or higher truths. Indeed I find that there is more truth in Proust, albeit it is officially fictional, than in the babbling analyses of the New York Times that give us the illusions of understanding what’s going on. Newspapers have officially the right facts, but their interpretations are imaginary – and their choice of facts are arbitrary. They lie with right facts; a novelist says the truth with wrong facts…to me fiction is not about ideas. It is above ideas. I make a divide between the holy, the sacred, the mysterious, the unexplainable, the implicit, the aesthetic, the moral, and the ethical on one hand, and the empirical, the functional, the explainable, the logical, the true, and the proven on the other. In short, the Holy and the Empirical. Literature belongs to the holy. You can do fiction, nonfiction, a mixture, who cares. Literature is above the distinction. It is sacred.

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Reading this during my literature low point was an eerie experience, to say the least. So why should we read the classics over other books or TV shows?

  1. Time has put the classics through the ringer and readers keep coming back to them because of their profound personal impact. 
  2. They speak to the unspeakable. Something that facts or science will never be able to explain.
  3. They were written during a time before internet and incessant interruption. Ancient wisdom is not tainted by Facebook or an Echo Chamber. 

So I am back on track with my goal. Sorry for the weak moment and I hope this post will motivate you to try out a classic. I can honestly tell you that Les Misérables is difficult, but it is exponentially better than any HBO series or cookie-cutter Netflix show. I think in the end a balance is always optimal – read some literature each day and watch a little Netflix – peanut butter and jelly.

 

Pregnancy Update – Third Trimester

Christina is officially in the third trimester! The big 3. The final stretch. The big belly. Reality knocking at our door. Theodore is quite the active baby and kicks Christina repeatedly in one spot. I actually felt him kick one time and I pretended to love the experience – in truth, it felt like I was in a Ridley Scott production of Alien. Baby clothes are starting to accumulate, and we are covering the wall of the baby room with owls. Christina has weird food cravings and is quite the picky pregnant women – the only meat she cares for now is shrimp. She was actually worried about not gaining enough weight, but I quickly looked up Filipina growth charts and reassured her that she was average weight in a petite-Asian world. Several times we thought Max was smelling her belly because of the baby; we later found some food stains were in the vicinity.

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I recently went to a friend’s wedding where everyone was either pregnant or talking about their kids. I felt left out of the conversation like a younger brother whose older brother is going through puberty. The advice that expectant parents receive is always the same:

“You aren’t going to get any sleep.”

“Say goodbye to your free time.”

“Blame all his bad genes on your wife.”

I agree with most of this advice, but I think it falls in the same category as corny advice one receives at a wedding…“A happy wife is a happy life.” Although corny, I know it is partially true, and I am mentally preparing myself for the changes in the future. One of the biggest things I need to work on is constant worrying. I find this a pathological attribute of most parents, and I am by no means immune. I worry about Teddy now, and I know it will get worse when he comes into the world. That is why my single greatest preparatory step during these last three months is stopping myself from worrying. Is this even a possibility? I am not sure at this point, but I am committed to trying. I am trying to pray more to God and giving Him my anxious thoughts – easy to type but hard to do in practice.

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What is the key to not worrying? From what wisdom I have gleaned, it is to understand what is and is not in your control. I can not control every aspect of Teddy’s life. I can do my best to help him in life, but there is always a limit. I am attempting to step back and let Jesus take the wheel. If that sounds corny or reckless, just ask yourself the outcomes of your own anxiety? Have they come to fruition? Or more than likely just ruined many precious hours of your life? My request is not corny advice that is obvious, but rather advice on controlling anxiety – without prescriptions. What works best for you? I am always open to your wisdom.

Is Your Mind Coddled?

Since there is so much in the news right now about the Supreme Court, I wanted to post this commencement speech from Chief Justice John Roberts…

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

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First and foremost, this is not a speech related to the Kavanaugh fiasco or any type of sexual assault. It is a speech addressing the problem in today’s world of “speech” censorship. From the left and the right, people are becoming “offended” by opinions that don’t fit their worldview. On the left, this is destroying universities with call-out cultures and “trigger warnings;” students are being taught that opposing views do not have to be debated but rather chased down like a modern-day Salem Witch Trial. On the right, opposing views are looked at as “Fake News” or a conspiracy theory which gains credibility in dark corners of comment sections. Our echo chambers have gotten worse within the past decade because of our tailored media outlets.

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The real problem arises once we start teaching children – and ourselves – that the echo chamber is how the real world should operate. Instead of preparing the next generation to grow mental muscles, we are taking all the weights out of the cerebral gym. Instead of strapping on a good pair of mental hiking boots we are paving the jungle of differing opinions. This blog is a direct result of my most recent book: The Coddling of the American Mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (both self-professed liberals). These two authors wrote an Atlantic article on this very subject, and that article morphed into a book after it became one of the most read articles in the magazines’ history. I highly recommend this book and the authors speak about three “Untruths” that are being taught in our society…

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker,” or the idea that exposure to offensive or difficult ideas is traumatic
  2. “Always trust your feelings,” or the notion that feeling upset by an idea is a reason to discount it
  3. “Us versus them,” or homogenous tribal thinking that leads people to shame those whose views fall outside that of their group

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Let me give you an example of these “Untruths” in action. Imagine an Asian student at a college and a white student innocently asking him for help with math homework. On many campuses, this question could be construed as racist and the Asian student would be supported by a Campus sponsored policy to reprimand the white student. Continuing the story, the Asian student could voice this example through social media where friends could voice “Us versus them” remarks with little rational argument: {copy-paste the following} white bigot, white privilege, misogynist, xenophobic, etc. This may sound far-fetched, but worse examples have happened on campuses. This was an example from the “left” but the antagonism from the “right” is just as bad – think about Trump’s Twitter feed. These “Untruths” lead to greater anxiety, depression, and anger among all political groups. I am not condoning hate speech or being an outright ass. I am condoning thoughtful dialogue and a thick skin because the world is not an echo chamber – our democracy depends on differing viewpoints and a populace with a good pair of hiking boots. What do you think?

My Craigslist Adventure

As a self-published author, my life consists of reading, writing, and begging people for reviews on Amazon. Before I started publishing on Amazon, I never realized how vital it was to have multiple reviews next to a title. The big publishers have no problem with this “star pursuit” because they have designated reviewers. The small guys have to scrape and sweat for whatever they can get. Amazon makes this almost impossible because even if someone buys your book, they cannot review it unless they have made several purchases in the past. Besides Amazon’s consumerist barriers, there are the barriers to people’s motivation. I have asked dozens of people to write me a review after reading my book – maybe 1% actually follow through.

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This dismal response rate is due to several factors: people are busy, people don’t care about my self-published book, people don’t like to write, and people don’t understand the importance of the almighty star. I currently have three books on Amazon. One has 16 reviews, and the other two have 1-2 reviews. Guess which book I sell multiple copies of each month? The one with those glorious stars! The other two books are just as good – if not better – but receive no lip service! If you need any more proof of this phenomenon, just be conscious of your own Amazon buying behavior; you will look at the number of reviews and the overall rating – if a product has no reviews it is not even considered. In an attempt to ameliorate my star situation, I went to Craigslist. 

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Craigslist and I have been friends for some time; in the past, I found countless deals, affordable apartments, and cool roommates from the eclectic site. I posted in the Community section that I was a “Local Author looking for people to read my book and write an honest review.” I got a few responses right away from people who requested my book and a meetup. My first email conversation went something like this…

“Hi I would like to read your book, I love reading.”

“Great I will send you the PDF.”

“Would you like to meet up and discuss it? I’m a 47-year-old blonde who likes long walks…” 

At that point, I thought I either found a true fan of my writing or someone who wanted me to be her divorce rebound; after showing my wife the email, I figured it was the latter. My second contact was with another local author who wanted to meet up to exchange books. We went back and forth on the time to meet and settled on Sunday at 3:00 pm. This was fine until my Fantasy Football draft got rescheduled to 3:00 pm. I frantically emailed him back several times that we would have to reschedule. There was no response until 4:00 pm…

“I waited here an hour for you!”

I felt like crap about this mix-up but who waits for someone pass the 30-minute mark? What person thinks…

“It’s 40 minutes past our meeting time…I’ll give them another 20”

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My star search had two strikes. The last message I got was from a foreign guy with poor English. He wanted to meet to discuss the book and practice English. I sent him the PDF and asked for the review before meeting up with him in a week. The day came and I drove to a very rural Mcdonald’s. One would think that a middle-of-nowhere Mcdonald’s would have mostly white people. This Mcdonald’s was like a United Nations and I spent the first 15 minutes asking people if they were the person I was looking for. Finally, I found my target in the corner. He was from Saudi Arabia and very friendly. The only problem was that he didn’t read my book or write me a review. For the next two hours, we talked about Saudi Arabian culture. During that time I was confronted by a Michigander who asked us if we were Christians – he subsequently preached to us for 15 minutes. I was also stared at by a family when our conversation turned to ISIS and me taking a trip to Mecca. This scenario was made worse by my ungainly beard and my obscure knowledge of Middle-Eastern history.  In the end, I never got my stars but I might be on the FBI watch list. Please if you are reading this, check out my books below and write me a quick review – it will save me some Craigslist adventures in the future.

Tackle the Library – Plato

We’re all the Chihuahuas 

Would you Like More Tranquility?

Would you like more peace and tranquility in your life? Would you like to gain contentment and step away from the endless cycle of desire? Would you like to get a  handle on your negative emotions? I for one want all of these things and I am willing to make a bet that you would also. The word “tranquil,” is an oxymoron in our crazy world of nonstop meetings, errands, social media updates, and version 2.0 technology purchases. How can we obtain the “good” life? Philosophers and religious leaders have been searching for this answer for millennia. I picked up a book that focused on this question through the ancient practice of Stoicism – A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. This is an excellent book that introduces the main principles of a frequently misunderstood way of life. Before reading this book, I always viewed a “stoical” person as someone who had no emotion – like a robotic-British-guard who can’t respond to pestering tourists. This view was completely off track…

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Stoicism began in Greece and was an amalgamation of several philosophical schools. The three main principles of Stoicism are as follows:

  1. A Stoic’s highest values are virtue and tranquility.
  2. A Stoic desires contentment with what they have – not what they would like to have
  3. A Stoic accepts what is outside of their control and accepts whatever their external environment throws at them.

Virtue in a Stoic sense means living a life that’s aligned with the ultimate purpose of a human – that is to be rational. This rationality leads ultimately to the pillars of virtue: temperance, courage, wisdom, goodness, honesty, righteousness, dignity, integrity, trustworthiness, decency and merit. To be entirely rational, one must be in a tranquil state. A tranquil state is one in which no negative emotions exist. To be completely tranquil, one must not let their external environment control their feelings. For example, a Stoic person in an argument would not become angry from insults and would maintain their tranquility – leading to preservation of their rational base of virtues.

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A significant enemy of tranquility is desire. This is especially true when the desire leads to discontentment. Stoics aim to rid themselves of this “desire loop” by appreciating what they already have. This goal is obtained by the practice of “negative visualization.”  To practice negative visualization, just imagine the people and things you love as suddenly vanishing. For example, imagine if you woke up today and there was no roof over your head; rain was pouring on your head, and you were shivering with cold from the dampness of the room. Thinking this makes you immediately appreciate your warm blanket and strong roof – two things that you normally take for granted. Another example is imagining that your wife or husband has died. This thought is deliberate but temporary – it doesn’t make you depressed – but instead makes you joyous with your current possessions. This practice is commonly performed among religious individuals who regularly pray – thanking God for His blessings because those blessings are very transitory.

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Finally, to achieve complete tranquility, we must understand what things are outside of our control. This is a challenging concept to practice, but it is a life-changing concept when implemented. We cannot control what other people say or do. We cannot control what is going on in the news. We cannot control the millions of variables which bombard us on a daily basis. When things upset us that are outside our control, we must push it out of our mind immediately. This doesn’t mean that we give up helping people but rather it requires us to make better goals. We can only go about our day doing our “best” to help make the world a better place. That is much different than the goal of “making the world a better place.” Trying your best is in your control. Changing the world for the better, unfortunately, is not in your control. This subtle change in mindset leads to considerable changes in anxiety, depression, and discontentment. Stoicism complements well with Christianity, and I feel that these two philosophies combined make for the best possible life. I know a lot of religious people who are very anxious and discontented with their day-to-day existence. Ancient philosophy doesn’t have to be relegated to the dusty shelves of a library – there is wisdom all around us.

Stoicism is so important that I am going to make it the next installment in The Tackle the Library Series. Release date June 2019.

Andrew Jackson vs. Donald Trump

I’ve been delaying this post because I felt uninspired to write about America’s seventh President – Andrew Jackson. Jackson is a big name in history for good and bad reasons. His face adorns the $20 bill and his name is often compared with our current President – Donald Trump. I am not going to write a dry list of all Jackson’s accolades, but instead, I just want to focus on three major components of his presidency. First, however, I must mention that the biography I read was American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham. My lack of inspiration with Jackson may partly stem from Meacham’s style of biography which was disjointed and a little heavy on 19th-century gossip. I like biographies which start from birth and end at death – American Lion focuses primarily on Jackson’s presidency – making it difficult to follow a timeline.

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Upon the completion of a book, I always have a few key takeaways that stick in my mind. For Jackson, I have three major points that I want to discuss. First off, Jackson was easily caricatured by politicians but in reality, his personality was far from the public imaginings. Jackson is responsible for the powerful presidency we know of today and this shift in thinking made him appear as a despot. Behind the scenes, Jackson loved his country and wanted to protect it like a father – he was highly successful in this arena. My second takeaway was that Jackson was a stubborn man who had conflicting philosophies. This was most pronounced with his views towards Native Americans and slaves. Jackson is responsible for the Trail of Tears which forced Native Americans to move “yet again” from land in the South to the West. This policy was due to Jackson’s belief that different races of people could not cohabitate together – separation or subjugation were the only solutions. My third takeaway was that this erroneous philosophy did not apply to the States in the Union. During his tenure, Jackson prevented South Carolina from succeeding and held the States accountable to federal laws; preventing a civil war and strengthening the power of the Supreme Court.

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As one can see, Jackson was a complex man who had conflicting philosophies which resulted in policies with negative and positive outcomes. Is the country better off because of Andrew Jackson? Like most Presidents’ track record, this is a hard question to answer. I think overall, Jackson did benefit the country by keeping it together during a time when it was falling apart at the seams. His policies with the Native Americans were disastrous, and that is why I have a hard time liking Jackson. This brings me to my comparison between Jackson and Trump. Donald Trump is a complicated man who is easily caricatured. He is either vilified by the left or overly praised by the right. Jackson changed the strength of the Presidency and Trump is continuing that tradition. I believe just like Jackson, Trump loves his country. But I also think that just like Jackson, Trump has some philosophies which cause contradictions – both helping and hurting the nation.

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For a long time, I caricatured Trump in my mind. After reading Jackson’s biography, I have changed my mind about our current President. Trump is a very intelligent man and in my opinion a political mastermind. He knows exactly how to rally his base and precisely what to Tweet – ensuring his message is spread throughout the internet. Many on the left think he is an idiot for his comments just like intellectuals thought Jackson was mad for some of his statements. Trump and Jackson are strategists. Some of these strategies have good outcomes for the country while others do not. The point I want to make is that both Trump and Jackson have flaws, but they also have strengths. It is our job not to caricature and be petty but rather to be rationale and discerning. When we caricature we dehumanize. When we dehumanize we become a caricature ourselves. Does that mean I support Trump? Yes and no. Just like Jackson, I have my critiques, but just like Jackson, I think Trump’s biography will give us a more complete picture. At this point in time, however, I am unenthused to write about Trump.

PS – The more I read, the more I see myself as an Independent in the realms of politics. I think party politics close ourselves off from seeing the other side. Thoughts, comments, or questions on anything I said…please send me a message.

Pregnancy Update – Gender Reveal

I’m back and feel rejuvenated. I needed that break, and I appreciate all the support from my readers. August was a quick month because the whole family went on a vacation to Rapid City, South Dakota. I didn’t know what to expect, but the Great Plains did not disappoint. We saw Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and a whole host of wildlife: bears, bison, prairie dogs, elk, deer, snakes, and fat motorcyclists.

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The highlight of the trip was Mount Rushmore for obvious reasons – my favorite President – Theodore Roosevelt – was smiling down on me. Of course, every Oldham vacation entails a large amount of calorie consumption, and I yet again had a special moment in the ice cream aisle. The whole time on vacation, Christina was pregnant and using the baby as an excuse to eat an endless stream of junk food.

“Jon I want more cereal!”

“You just finished your second bowl.”

Her stomach throbbing in anger, “Are you trying to starve the baby!”

The Oldhams are not the type to lay idle all day, and we went hiking and biking nearly every afternoon. My back was bothering me from a previous injury, so Christina and I got into a routine of asking each other the “Two B questions” – “How is the baby?” and “How is your back.” I highly recommend checking South Dakota out and exploring one of America’s most underrated states. 

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Usually, I am sad to come home from vacation, but on this occasion, my emotions were swinging in the opposite direction. This anomaly was due to the fact we were scheduled to find out the gender of the baby. My views on the gender reveal are mixed. My Amish side tells me to wait while my millennial side tells me to take a peak. We decided to find out the gender mainly because it gets old calling the baby an “It.” The day came this past Wednesday. We were both excited to the point that Christina was unable to sleep and I was unable to control my armpit sweat. I threw on a white shirt, and Christina waddled into the doctor’s office – it should be noted that this waddle has placed her higher up the ladder of pregnancy dominance. We were beckoned into the ultrasound room by an elderly-limping nurse. Years of finding baby sex organs had worn her friendliness into a subtle light, like a dying star in a distant galaxy. I quickly got on her good side by asking a million questions about the baby and the ultrasound. The fetus came on the screen and looked much bigger than the last time. It was moving and kicking – giving the old lady a run for her money. She checked the kidneys, spine, heart, gut, brain, and overall growth – all healthy and normal. I was thanking God during this time and smiling with the revelation that my baby was blessed beyond measure.

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The final moment had arrived – the gender reveal. I was putting my money on it being a girl. I felt this way because every person told me it would be a girl – based on the logic that I would get the opposite of what I wanted – a boy. I wanted a boy because I think boys are easier to raise after puberty. Boys typically don’t care about getting cards on birthdays or arranging bridal showers or bringing up a decade-old argument – typically girls do. Hence, I wanted a boy, but I knew God would help change my mind with a little girl. The white and black blob moved on the screen, and the old sage moved her instrument towards the inguinal region. My fate as a father was only a couple of centimeters away. I tried to keep myself calm by convincing myself that my daughter would feign romance with a “Bad Boy.” One more centimeter. I tried to convince myself that my daughter would be one of those girls who didn’t give the silent treatment when mad. Half a centimeter. I tried to convince myself that my daughter would take after my easygoing personality and not the emotional typhoon of the Philippines. All of a sudden the baby moved slightly and all was clear. It was clear before the nurse even had to say anything. There before my eyes was the sign of the future. It was a protruding mass between my unborn child’s legs. A cocktail weenie instead of a taco.  A baby boy. Theodore-Wallace Reynaldo Oldham. I guess both God and Teddy were smiling down on me that day.

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PS – I’m sure God will give me three girls now…and I look forward to it 🙂

 

August Nap

This blog brings me a lot of happiness but I feel the need for a little vacation. For the month of August, I will be taking a break from posting and I will be back after Labor Day. This break coincides with a trip I am taking to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. Pictures will come in September – especially me getting a selfie with Teddy Roosevelt’s granite head. I am still working diligently on my larger writing projects: Tackle the Library – Indian Independence and my novel American Chestnut. Take a siesta this August and refresh yourself for the fall. I always thought Labor Day should be the official start of the new year.  See you in a few weeks.

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Pregnancy Update – Week 16

Christina is now four months pregnant; far beyond the last update concerning the journey of my sperm. I didn’t know what these first few months would hold, but I have learned a lot already. On two occasions we have gone to hear the baby’s heartbeat. These visits were my first experiences at an OBGYN office – arguably the most inhospitable place on earth for men. Going to the gynecologists’ office as a man is like going to a bridal shower with pap smear party favors. I was given dirty looks from the receptionists, the waiting patients, the nurses, and the doctor who did the ultrasound – as if I were defiling their feminine sanctuary. All the men in the building simply stared at the wall in fear; this was made difficult by the fact that all the walls were covered with posters advertising incontinence pads. Maybe one of the weirdest things about being in the OB office is the fact that all the pregnant women formed a dominance hierarchy.

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This hierarchy – like most things in the feminine world – was communicated through passive aggressiveness. While staring at the incontinence poster, I overheard a conversation between two pregnant women. The first pregnant woman was midway through her term with just a moderate amount of belly. The second pregnant woman was due at any moment and looked as if she were carrying triplets. Every time the smaller pregnant woman said something about her pregnancy, the bigger lady would one-up her…

“I have felt some movement, and I have had some cramping.”

“Ha, you think that is movement, my kid was like MC Hammer last night…I haven’t had a day without my whole body feeling like it was run over by a bus.”

It continues…

“Well, I have had difficulty sleeping, and my doctor says I need to take a medication for low thyroid.”

“Ha, I haven’t slept for three months! I have anemia, constipation, and cravings for the discontinued McRib.”

The smaller pregnant woman eventually demured and admitted defeat. This process is highlighted further by the clothes worn by pregnant women. Christina has a tiny bump now that looks like she is bloated – not something she likes to hear. In an attempt to climb the dominance ladder, Christina has started to wear tight shirts with pronounced stripes. All fat people know that striped shirts are of the devil – something I avoided like the plague when I was a plump boy shopping in the Husky Section of JcPenny. For a pregnant woman of 16 weeks, a striped shirt is like stuffing a preteen bra with toilet paper – an ideal optical illusion.

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The striped shirt is just a segway to the ultimate dominance of the pregnant woman and the reason why all pregnant women bring their men to the ultrasound. Let’s bring it back to the OB visit; I am still staring at the incontinence poster, Christina is wearing the striped shirt and has both hands on her stomach. I look around the room, and most of the women are in the same position – some wearing even tighter outfits that make stripes look like child’s play. Christina gives me a look, and she takes my hands and puts it on her belly. I start to rub her stomach, and at that moment I realize I am just a pawn in a dangerous game. All the women around me have a scorn expression on their faces and are giving their husband’s the evil eye. A husband rubbing his wife’s pregnant belly is the dominance equivalent of a young man getting on his knee during the proposal –  suffice it to say, Christina was pounding her chest in triumph. Just then, however, the large pregnant women stepped past us…

“It’s so nice that your husband is here with you and he wants to rub your belly. My husband is deployed to Iraq…he’ll miss the child’s birth.”

Around and around we go – who will win no one knows. Here’s to the next four months of dominance positioning and many more life lessons.

PS – The baby’s heart is healthy and everything seems to be going well. Please keep us in your prayers.

 

Malcolm X – Darkness to Light

This week’s blog is a complete 180 compared to last weeks blog on John Quincy Adams. I am still trying to read all the Penguin Classics, and because of that I just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley. Malcolm X is a mystifying character in history, and I didn’t know anything about him before picking up this classic. This is one reason why I highly recommend making it a goal to read the classics – you will be forced to read books that expand your worldview. We can’t improve discrimination or racism without empathy – one of the best ways to practice empathy is by stepping into the shoes of someone else through biography. 

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Malcolm X was born on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska – he shortly moved to Lansing, Michigan where he lived until the age of 14. At 14 he moved to Boston to live with family and eventually found himself in Harlem at the age of 21. While in Harlem, Malcolm Little – Little was his original last name – lived a life of crime, drugs, and racketeering. His lifestyle caught up with him, and in 1946 he was arrested for larceny. The prison he was sent to was unique in the sense that it promoted rehabilitation and education. Malcolm began to read and participate in debating events. His family in Michigan had moved to Detroit and while there became involved with a new movement called “The Nation of Islam.” Malcolm’s brother introduced him to the preachings of Elijah Muhammed – a radical black leader who preached a twisted version of Islam. Malcolm converted to Islam in prison, and upon his release in 1952, became a full-time disciple of Elijah Muhammed.

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Elijah Muhammed with his follower Muhammed Ali

Malcolm got rid of his last name and replaced it with an “X” to represent his crossed out African name which could never be discovered. The Nation of Islam was a movement targeted towards frustrated blacks who were sick of discrimination and “white” Christianity. Elijah Muhammed taught his members the following about the white race…

“Though he was a black man, Mr. Yacub, embittered toward Allah now, decided, as revenge, to create upon the earth a devil race – a bleached out, white race of people. From his studies, the big-head scientist knew that black men contained two germs, black and brown. He knew that the brown germ stayed dormant and being the lighter of the two germs, it was the weaker. Mr. Yacub, to upset the law of nature, conceived the idea of employing what we today know as the recessive genes structure, to separate from each other the two germs, black and brown, and then grafting the brown germ to a progressively lighter, weaker stage. The humans resulting, he knew, would be, as they became lighter, and weaker, progressively also more susceptible to wickedness and evil. And in this way finally he would achieve the intended bleached-out white race of devils.”

It gets worse…

“But finally the original black people recognized that their sudden troubles stemmed from this devil white race that Mr. Yacub had made. They rounded them up, put them in chains. With little aprons to cover their nakedness, this devil race was marched off across the Arabian desert to the caves of Europe…When this devil race had spent two thousand years in the caves, Allah raised up Moses to civilize them, and bring them out of the caves. It was written that this devil white race would rule the world for six thousand years.”

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Malcolm X truly believed these falsehoods and regularly recited the message that all white people were the devil. This obviously was not well received by whites, and prominent black leaders like Martin Luther King denounced the separatist hate speech. Malcolm X actually didn’t want desegregation and believed there was no way for the white race and the black race to cohabitate. Eventually, Malcolm X became more prominent then Elijah Muhhamed and was kicked out of the organization. Once he exited the cult-like Nation of Islam, he traveled to Mecca to see for himself what Islam sincerely offered. While in Mecca Malcolm saw people of all races and realized that all his former beliefs were lies. He came back to America a new man…

“In the past, yes, I have made sweeping indictments of all white people. I never will be guilty of that again – as I know now that some white people are truly sincere, that some truly are capable of being brotherly toward a black man. The true Islam has shown me that a blanket indictment of all white people is as wrong as when whites make blanket indictments against blacks.”

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Unfortunately, the changed Malcolm X did not have enough time to reverse his public image of hate – on February 21, 1965, he was shot 21 times by assassins of the Nation of Islam. I understand the reasons behind Malcolm’s hate speech and I respect his change of views later in life. We all have the capacity to hate – no one race has a monopoly. Malcolm taught me the danger of fundamentalist teaching and the power of real knowledge – we must seek the truth if we desire to rise above the ignorance of the past.

The Gagged President – John Quincy Adams

Awhile back, I took a break from my goal of reading all the presidents’ biographies because I was getting burned out with white men politics and I knew you guys were yearning for more variety. It’s been a few months since my last presidential post and with this season of Independence upon us, I decided to return to my mission.  The next president on my list was John Quincy Adams and I picked up his biography by Harlow Giles Unger. I was excited to read about the son of John Adams because I enjoyed learning about the elder statesmen and his family through David McCullough. John Quincy Adams was born on July 11, 1767, in Braintree, Massachusetts. He accompanied his father to France in 1778 and from there went to Russia as a secretary assistant to the ambassador – he was only 14 years old. John Quincy was a precocious student steeped in classical education and was more worldly in his 20s than elder ambassadors at the time.

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Excelling at diplomacy and statesmanship, his career accomplishments are staggering: American minister to six European countries; negotiated the end of the War of 1812; freed African prisoners on the slave ship Amistad; served 16 years in the House of Representatives; restored free speech in Congress; led the anti-slavery movement, and was the 6th president of the United States. John Quincy Adams’s actual time in the presidential office was not very successful because he appeared too aristocratic; his past-times included reading Tacitus and writing poetry – the opposite interests of Andrew Jackson who usurped him after one term. I want to focus however on Adam’s post-presidency accomplishments – accomplishments which changed the course of American history.

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John Quincy’s later life is a lesson on how to respond to hardship. After losing reelection in 1828 and burying his son who committed suicide, he felt dejected and considered leaving political life forever. A flame of hope flickered for him when his local district in Massachusetts approached him to run for the House of Representatives. He became the first ex-president to sit in Congress and became a man on fire in the new role. For the past 30 years, slavery was a topic seldom discussed in government. It was such a hot-button issue that politicians didn’t even speak a word of it on the floor of the House or Senate. This changed however with the addition of the slave state Missouri and the ever-expanding Western boundary of the nation. New states were trying to come into the Union – with each addition, the balance of power between the south and north shifted.

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John Quincy had always been an abolitionist, but it wasn’t until his time as a Representative that he pushed this mission into politics. He stood on the floor and spoke the unmentionable words – Southern politicians denounced him and his “traitorous” rhetoric. He wrote in his journal during this time…

“It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?”

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He would bring up the issue of slavery so often that the Southern politicians created a “gag rule” which would table any mention of the subject. The “gag rule” prevented any debate or discussion and whenever John Quincy tried to talk he was screamed at by Southerners until he was forced to sit down. After countless petitions and arguments, John Quincy was able to argue for his case – at one point he held the floor for two straight weeks. All of his excessive arguing against censorship and slavery led to him being a national hero and beloved member of Congress for those in the north. His driving force would lead to laws that reversed the “gag rule.” His later debates on abolition would influence a young representative from Illinois – Abraham Lincoln. John Quincy was the political matchstick which ignited the fuse leading to the Civil War. The sixth president died in 1848 two days after collapsing in the House of Representatives. His life was filled with education, service, failure, and accomplishments. More than anything, John Quincy Adams, bounced back after defeat and led the country as one of the most preeminent moral leaders. Failure is never the end – it is just the catalyst for a better beginning.

Gut Health = Brain Health?

One of my first blogs on this site was about a book called Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter – a neurologist who blames lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.) on excessive carbohydrate and gluten consumption. It’s been four years since that post and I have followed much of the book’s advice – I eat a primal diet that consists of meat, vegetables, fruit, and some whole fat dairy. My body is happy when I eat this way and I never have to worry about measuring portions or counting calories – this use to be a requirement because I put on weight easier than a bear preparing for hibernation.  Eating the aforementioned foods is not a diet but rather a lifestyle. Wheat, corn, rice, and added sugars are great once in a while but not as a base for your personal food pyramid. My buddy Chris O’Brien – an aspiring low-carber with a nagging penchant for club crackers – recommended that I read Dr. Perlmutter’s newest book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain. This book changed the way I think about the microbes that live within our bodies. In a sense, we are more bacteria than human – we carry more single cell organisms than actual cells in our body. These microbes help us with a myriad of bodily functions like digestion, immunity, sense perception, and mental processes. Without microbes, we would simply die.

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The health of your gut bacteria determines the health of your brain. The stomach and brain are interconnected – just think of what happens to your digestive system when you are anxious. The rise in diseases like Alzheimer’s, mood disorders, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, and autism are being linked with imbalances in gut bacteria. These imbalances allow bad bacteria to flourish over good bacteria; this leads to excess absorption of energy (obesity), inflammation that stimulates autoimmunity (Multiple Sclerosis), and/or gut permeability which can exacerbate neurological symptoms (Autism).  Studies show that our ultra-sterile environments and antibiotic use is disrupting our microbiome. Added to this is our Western diet low in prebiotic fiber and high in carbohydrates which foster bad bacteria. As an icing on the cake, exposure to environmental toxins like plastic residues, pollution, and workplace stress can all disrupt good bacteria. The connection between the gut and the brain is most obvious in those struggling with mental health disorders – studies show that more then 50 percent of psychiatric patients struggle with digestive ailments.

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So what can we do to help our microbiome? We need to eat diets which are high in fiber so good bacteria have food to eat. Also, eating probiotics like yogurt or fermented foods like sauerkraut help introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut. Avoiding toxins is an obvious must, but don’t forget about toxins lingering in the food supply like gluten and added sugar. Is gluten actually a toxin? I would argue that gluten in high quantities – the amounts seen in normal Western diets – wreaks havoc on the digestive system and on the microbiome. If you require more convincing then I recommend trying a gluten free diet for a month – I bet you’ll start feeling better after the first week. I recommend these things not only from research studies but also from my own experience. I used to eat “healthy” whole grains and I normally had stomach pains, constipation, and bloating; I was even diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) before I started eating a primal diet. Now unsurprisingly, the only time my IBS flares up is when I go back to eating grains. If you suffer from any of the above ailments, it is worth it to read this book. You may not see a complete reversal of your disorder but I would bet your symptoms will get drastically better. Read the book for yourself. You have nothing to lose except some bad microbes.

A Sperm Update

A couple months ago I wrote a blog about my exhausted sperm; at the time they were being depleted for the goal of fertilization. Christina was using an App that was the reverse of the Handmaid’s Tale – a female whip which summoned my penis like I dystopian computer program running an “insert” program. Neo couldn’t even comprehend the Matrix in which that pregnancy App put me through. By the last “blue day” – one of seven which highlighted an increased chance of pregnancy – my masculinity was stressed to limits like a desert flower on a hot day. Nevertheless, I survived the ordeal and came out of the process not only holding a bag of ice on my crouch but also a new found pride in my heart.

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I gave it my all and I left it to God to decide whether my sperm would make the arduous journey through the booby-trapped crevice. The journey of sperm is best described as an amalgamated movie; Samuel L Jackson firing a pistol, Indiana Jones running away from a boulder, and Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star. I honestly didn’t think my sperm could get past the opening credits; I figured I wouldn’t have enough of them or maybe their tails didn’t rotate in the right direction. These worries were based on my own physical ineptitude which still forces me to carry rash ointment and take one step at a time while descending stairs.

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Worries aside, I allowed meiosis to recharge my supplies and we patiently waited for any signs of life. This waiting period is excruciating for normal couples who are expecting – unfortunately, we are not a normal couple. Armed with her App, Christina began to experience every pregnancy symptom known to science. I need to preface this statement with a quick explanation of the Filipina body. A Filipina is always in a state of distress and can never reach homeostasis. As soon as Christina hits puberty, her Spanish, Polynesian, and Asian ethnicities ignited into one hormonal explosion. My wife’s hormones vary as much as the topography of a mountain – with the ascent there are hot flashes, cramps, cravings, moodiness, tears, etc. There is no time in my wife’s day when she is not on a carnival pirate ship; swinging between menstruation and menopause. These facts made the “Do you feel pregnant?” stage impossible to gauge – was my wife bloated because of my successful sperm or the carton of ice cream she ate.

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The day finally arrived when the almighty App told us to take the pregnancy test; I was anxious and frustrated with Christina’s refusal to pee in one of our “nice” cups. I scavenged the house for a plastic container and shoved my wife towards the bathroom. I heard the stream that was going to spare my manhood or force it back to the slavemaster App. The result finally appeared, and we both stared at the words – the words that could change our lives forever. It was final. It was absolute. The Death Star had been infiltrated. It said “Pregnant.” Another journey has begun, and I am free of the App’s whip – my sperm can finally dictate their own schedule. Stay tuned for what comes next. She is 11 weeks and due in January. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to share.

The Communist in All of Us

Sometimes I get embarrassed when I read certain books in public; one time while I was working at an Elementary school I was confronted by a little girl who asked the simple question – “Why are you reading?” That is a funny story, but I have also gotten unamusing looks from adults with titles like Pride and Prejudice (In a purple cover) and The Book of Mormon. Stares get even icier when I grow my beard out and my appearance resembles that of a homeless man. I just recently reached the epitome of glances with my newest classic – The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. I was reading this scary-sounding book on a park bench one day – my beard looked like a birds nest, and I had my hair up in a man bun. Suffice it to say; mothers walked hurriedly past me and phones were being primed for an Amber Alert. Books are compelling and in the wrong hands can cause a lot of problems; imagine seeing someone reading The ISIS Manifesto: A Guide to Being a Lonewolf. That is why 70 years ago it was hard finding books on Communism and why many libraries blacklisted specific titles. I have mixed feelings about this, but I do believe that it is essential to understand the logic of extreme political thought.

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The Communist Manifesto was a political pamphlet published in 1848 by the German Philosophers Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels (credited for editing). Europe at the time was in a post-French Revolution reordering; class struggle was preeminent and capitalism was taking over the world. The life of a poor laborer consisted of arduous factory work – think of the desperation experienced during the Dust Bowl but tinged with aristocratic barriers. Marx desired to rally the working class against the bourgeoisie (middle to upper class) just like the bourgeoise assembled to fight the aristocracy during the French Revolution. Below is a list of the Communist Parties’ objectives.

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
  2. Heavy progressive or graduated tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. 
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
  8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

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As history has shown, Communism doesn’t work. The idea of “equality” is great but in the Soviet Union – as one example – there were just as many divisions in society – rich and poor, ruling class and working class. What I have taken away most from this book is the idea that we are all a little Communistic. We all think we are 100% right on certain occasions and we believe that our way is the right way – think Liberal and Conservative. In Communist countries, there is no party system – no room for opposing viewpoints – no way to balance out opponents. There are truths in this world and I am not arguing that everyone’s opinion is “correct;” my point is that no individual or group of individuals has all the answers. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party need each other – the extremes of each lead to Communism or Fascism. The flaw with Communism was not that it sought equality; its flaw was the belief that one viewpoint could obtain equality. When we listen to others and learn from the past, we realize that truth lies in the middle. Be wary of extremes and be wary of individuals that proclaim their way is the only way. Marx was a genius, but he forgot what happened to Robespierre in the French Revolution – both examples of government were far from the middle and ended in disaster. What do you think about extreme political beliefs? Do you tend to be in the middle or a staunch fan of one particular party? I would love your comments.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.
 -Karl Marx

The Congo’s Hidden “Holocaust”

We all know of the Holocaust and the 11 million Jews who were killed by Hitler. Many of us know about the Armenian genocide which took place during WWI – over two million Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks were killed during that time. Unfortunately, these were not isolated incidents in the history of humanity, and I have just learned about yet another mass murder. This particular slaughter of people was not a genocide but rather an indiscriminate killing for the sake of prophet. It occurred over a hundred years ago in the area we now call the Congo. These evils came from the most unsuspecting country – Belgium. The nation of waffles and Brussels sprouts – has a hidden history which not many people know about. To learn how Belgium terrorized the Congo, I read King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild. The real villain in this story is not Belgium but rather Belgium’s King – Leopold II.

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King Leopold II was viewed as the world’s greatest African philanthropist. His generous donations to the continent and his desire for funding scientific explorations were proclaimed across Europe as progressive measures to bring civilization to the savages. Unfortunately, there was a hidden objective in Leopold’s philanthropy – he was collecting as much research as possible so he could found his own colony. In the 19th century, Africa was a piecemeal conglomerate of European colonies – England, France, Germany, and Italy all claimed a portion of the raw material pie. Leopold had a small country complex – Belgium was nowhere close to competing with the big dogs regarding intercontinental control. Nevertheless, the King of a country the size of Maryland was able to weasel his way into Africa. He performed this feat of diplomatic chicanery by founding his own company which was designed to provide humanitarian needs for the newly discovered Congo. This company had its own flag and was technically independent of the Belgian government – allowing King Leopold complete control. The other European forces permitted the company to control the Congo with the aim to promote free trade while preventing major disputes between land-hungry countries. In short order, King Leopold II confiscated all of the native’s property for his “state” and began exploiting the virgin land for elephant tusks and rubber.

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Vast quantities of raw materials left the Congolese ports – the only import for the people of the Congo was hired soldiers who enforced the status quo of exploitation. This military force ruled by the rifle and the chicotte – a whip made of hippopotamus hide cut into long corkscrew strips. These “humanitarians” were given commissions based on how much ivory could be collected. This capitalistic motivation led to the forced labor of the Congolese at a time when Europe was aghast at all forms of slavery. Things only got worse after scientists discovered new and useful applications for rubber – the pneumatic tire being one example. The Congo was full of wild rubber, and this brought new terror for the natives. Men of all ages were forced to meet quotas of rubber; If they did not comply they were shot, or their families were forced into labor. As the rubber began to run out, the Congolese were required to travel longer and longer distances – draining villages of work for harvest and subsequently causing thousands to starve. A typical punishment for the Congolese was to cut off a member of their body – a missing right hand was a ubiquitous sight.

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Between murder, starvation, susceptibility to disease, and labor exhaustion, the population of the Congo dropped by half during Leopold’s control: 1885 – 1908. That is a total of 10 million people! A scary number, especially since very few people know about this history. It is as if I were writing this blog post about the Holocaust and people were reading about the acts of Hitler for the first time. Of course, this was not a pure genocide, but it was a well-documented atrocity which affected the lives of various Congolese tribes; that is why many are beginning to call this point in history the “Hidden Holocaust” and why I think it is more important than ever to keep learning about our past. If WWII is our only knowledge of the mass murder, we will think it is an isolated occurrence – something that was an anomaly and will never happen again. I wish I could say it was an anomaly but it is a sad pattern which we need to understand to truly prevent. Did you know anything about King Leopold before this post? What are your thoughts on history repeating itself? Should schools do a better job of teaching these lessons? I love your comments.

“The Congo Free State is unique in its kind. It has nothing to hide and no secrets and is not beholden to anyone except its founder.” – King Leopold II (Founder)

My Case for Christ

Just this past Easter I went to church with my family; I don’t always look forward to church but when I do it is on Easter Sunday. The pastor covered a lot of the standard resurrection points, and I was having a difficult time concentrating. All of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard him cite The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. This book gets mentioned a lot in the Christian community and on that particular day the pastor was challenging us to read it for ourselves. I finally got around to getting the book, and I was honestly skeptical about its content. Strobel was a former atheist who set about to disprove Christianity. In his journey, he ended up accepting Jesus as his savior. It sounded almost too good to be true, and I slowly dipped my toe into the meat of the text. Strobel was actually a journalist with the Chicago Tribune and approached the “case” for Christ as if he were covering a courtroom proceeding. In a trial, there is a variety of evidence presented to a jury: eyewitness, documentary, corroborating, scientific, rebuttal, identity, and circumstantial evidence to name a few. Strobel was a skeptic and went about interviewing professional academics who had spent their entire lives researching the subject of Jesus. He grilled these individuals with difficult questions: Can the biographies of Jesus Christ be trusted?; Were the biographies of Jesus reliably preserved?; Is there credible evidence for Jesus Christ outside of His biographies?; Does archaeology confirm Jesus’ biographies?; Was Jesus’ body really absent from the tomb?; And are there any supporting facts that point to the resurrection?

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Growing up a Christian, I took these questions for granted – my faith weakened as I got older because I assumed there just wasn’t much to back up the history of Jesus. I was never a full-blown atheist, but many times I doubted the Gospels. After reading this book, I can firmly say that there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus both existed and was raised from the dead. This is a big statement but all the evidence points towards the truth – if I were a jury member I would be negligent if I didn’t admit this verdict. The most astounding fact that I think everyone must reckon with is the spread of Christianity by the Apostles. These men had nothing to gain and everything to lose by spreading the message that Jesus was the Son of God. We must remember that they were Jewish and in the Jewish culture, tradition is absolute. Nothing could have turned Jewish tradition more on its head than saying that the temple was unnecessary because the Son of God had died for the sins of the world. Preaching this message led to imprisonment and death – far from the best motivating factors for a young religion; yet Christianity continued to spread and has yet to fade away after 2,000 years. The burden of proof lies with those who don’t believe – trying to explain the early spread of Christianity in purely naturalistic terms is very unconvincing.

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Am I biased in my claims? Yes and no. I have grown up a Christian, but I have also studied every major world religion – none comes close to the verifiable history of Christianity. That does not mean that other religions do not have things to offer – for example, I meditate daily from reading about Buddhism, I respect Sufism’s mystical practices, and I mildly indulge in the asceticism of Hinduism. My personal case for Christ is that He is still living in us today. The only way I truly know that Christ exists is that he speaks to me on a daily basis. I know He is with me because I also know what it is like to be in the presence of evil. Evil is powerful and very palpable – when Christ fills you it is like a light being turned on in a dark room – impossible to ignore. Suffice it to say, read the book and see the evidence for yourself. If you are an atheist just give it a try. If you believe in God but are not a Christian give it a try. Having a relationship with Jesus makes my life better, so I want your life to be better also. In the end, there are no absolute answers to these metaphysical questions – that is why it is called belief. I think we should close out this blog with a reassuring quote from the most famous atheist in the world.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist.”

-Stephen Hawking

How are Plato and Jesus Buddies? – Chapter 1, 2, and 3

Scroll down for Chapter 1, 2, and 3 – download the book to answer the question –  “How are Plato and Jesus Buddies?” If you are new please read below. 

I am happy to announce that the second installation of the Tackle the Library series is finally here! This book took me five months to write and I am thrilled to have the project completed. Plato is a tough dude to study and I read over 4,000 pages of text to write this tiny book. Do not fret, I guarantee that you will be able to understand Plato’s philosophy in this easy-to-read narrative. Below is the description.

Plato’s philosophy, political theory, and scholasticism shaped our modern day world. His ideas and writings are both important and honestly confusing. Have you ever wanted to learn about this crucial man but felt overwhelmed by the number of books on the subject? Have you tried to read dry Wikipedia articles on the “Forms” or the “Philosopher King” which soon made your eyeballs glaze over? Do you simply not care that much about Plato to commit a lot of time in dissecting his complicated beliefs? 

The Tackle the Library series takes the top 5 books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. Plato is one of the greatest philosophers of all time and is worth learning about because he attempted to understand topics which impact our everyday life: ethics, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose to name a few. This book makes nonfiction a painless process – no other text naturally explains the background, the evolution, the application, the history, and the paradoxes of Plato’s philosophy in a way that keeps the pages turning. Stop staring at that dusty shelf of nonfiction texts in the library and crack open a book that you’ll actually want to read.

If your curiosity is piqued, please give this book a try. It will take you a couple hours to finish and you will gain an entirely new understanding of the world. Just like my last book, We’re all Chihuahuas, I am having a special weekend sale where you can download it for free. Please click this link or any link you see on this page to download. For the next three days, I will post the first three chapters as a thank you to my readers. I hope you enjoy and gain something from the experience.

Without further adieu…

Chapter 1 – The Cave

“The beginning is the most important
part of the work.” – Plato

The path seems to meander in the distance and turn hazy in spots from shimmers of light-reflected heat. You’re on a hiking trail and slowly ascending a steep hillside during the peak days of summer – magnificent in beauty but sweltering in humidity. A quick glance off trail reveals a shaded spot and a possible resting place before the final push upwards. Sitting under the shade, you set your bag down and notice a small opening. It is a hole that emits cold air – what appears to be the entry to a natural cave. After an arduous dig, the gap widens to a large opening that teases the curiosity. Slowly you descend until your eyes adjust and all of the surroundings become discernible; this is no ordinary cave but rather one with a group of mystified inhabitants staring at a particular wall. These inhabitants were born in the cave and were forced, since birth, to watch the shapes and figures on the stone – created by the tiny holes of light behind them. They believe these shadows are actual objects and there is no more to the world than what is observed on that slimy edifice. You tap a few on the shoulder and break the spell of their imprisonment. You turn them towards the light source and show how the images are created; they are stunned and cannot believe that their reality was just a mirage.

Exalted in your good deeds, you try to lead them further out of the cave. Surprisingly though, you see the inhabitants turn back to their familiar wall and continue in their most comfortable state – ignorance. The truth is too much for them, and they prefer to look at the shadows instead of understanding their outer and inner worlds. Frustrated, you grab a few by the arm and you force them out into the summer day. The cave dwellers’ eyes sear from the brightness and they are unable to see. You slowly get them use to their new reality, and eventually, they grow in their belief and reason of what the world entails. They go back to the cave and try to get more people – only a few more decide to step out – most remain steadfast to the wall. Having done your job, you continue on with your hike and immediately tap your phone and post about your experience. You get to the top of the hill and check the news, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and various other media outlets; looking up for a second you see the horizon and have a weird thought pop into your head – “Am I also looking at the wall of a cave?”

The idea of “The Cave” is one of Plato’s most relevant and endearing metaphors. In today’s world, we no doubt would have an easy time finding “cave dwellers” who propagate stupidity and selfishness – just imagine Plato reading the comment sections of an internet post. Plato was not pretentious in his view of humanity but hopeful that man could turn from ignorance and reach a better life through active reasoning; Plato wrote, “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” This cultivation begins with the belief that wisdom is something worth pursuing and that we can climb above our “sense perception” to a greater realm of understanding. Plato’s highest goal in life was not understanding the physical realities of the world – which our cave eyes could quickly ascertain – but rather the light source itself. The sun in the Cave metaphor is the source of all things good in this life: virtue, happiness, love, justice, courage, beauty, and loyalty are a few examples of the “goodness.” Plato wanted to understand a universal standard for the “Good” and a level of knowledge which would allow us to fully grasp our inner self – ultimately leading to a greater appreciation of life.

Plato made it clear that most people will never leave the wall in the cave and few will cross over the threshold of understanding the highest truths. The journey out of the cave is a lifelong process and I wanted to give the ascent my best shot. Like Bilbo Baggins exiting the Shire, I soon realized that my path towards truth was not an easy road and not a solitary pursuit. To understand Plato, I enlisted the help of others and decided to read the top five books on the subject: Plato: Complete Works – edited by John M. Cooper, Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin, Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock, Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor, and The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. These books were challenging and entailed 4,000 pages of cave-exiting illumination. My eyes are now turned from the wall and it is my job to help you understand how beliefs morph into knowledge and how knowledge morphs into wisdom. We will climb through the mountains of Plato’s philosophy and cover subjects which have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time: the soul, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose. Plato lived over 2,400 years ago, but his teachings seem more relevant today than any other time in history – our world sinking further into a “virtual” reality. Ultimately, we study Plato to open up our perspective of our inner self and our humanity so that we can live a better existence and help others to cross over the bridge of ignorance. So let’s turn our heads from the wall and take a step towards the light – let’s TACKLE THE LIBRARY.

Chapter 2 – Dead Poets Society

“Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” – Plato

The streets of Athens bustled with all sorts of people going about their daily tasks: traders selling goods in the market, toga-wearing statesman negotiating policies in the corridors, crowds listening to poets animate the past, and intellectuals discussing the solutions to life’s most significant problems. Athens was the epicenter of Greek philosophy during the life of Plato. To fully appreciate the Greece of Plato we must go back centuries before his birth to understand why philosophy was even a topic of consideration. Three centuries before baby Plato even knew what a cave was, there was a famous poet named Homer. Homer is the author of the Greek epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, which were myths that encompassed the journeys of countless well-known characters: Odysseus, Achilles, Hector, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, etc. These poems, for hundreds of years, were transmitted through oral memorization; Greeks passed down their entire culture through the use of poets. These poets were not the finger-snapping goatee poets of our modern age but rather an odd amalgamation of trades – “The poet was in the first instance society’s scribe and scholar and jurist and only in a secondary sense its artist and showman.[1]“ Poetry was used as the primary tool for educating individuals and the process of memorization usually entailed music, body movement, rhythm, and regular recitations among groups.[2] The poems focused on actions and events involving characters that could easily be remembered by the listener – the student’s job “…was not to form individual and unique convictions but to retain tenaciously a precious hoard of exemplars. These exemplars of tradition made a student’s mental condition, though not his character…one of passivity, of surrender…”[3] There was no separation of self in the tradition of oral poetry because the student had to accept the content through group recitation to continue seamless memorization. This “group” identity spread throughout the entire culture and was the psychological zeitgeist when the initial philosophers began to think outside the box.

The oral culture of Greece began to change in the 8th century with the advent of the Phoenician alphabet – an improvement over rudimentary forms of syllabic symbols which were used before this time.[4] With this complex alphabet, artists, scholars, and the first-philosophers started recording entirely new information outside the usual confines of group memorization. The first works were primarily kept in a poetic form, but the famous author Hesiod changed this by using the alphabet for cataloging detailed information.[5] Writing allowed men to take a step back from the “passivity” of oral tradition and begin to think of abstract ideas for the first time – “As it did this, the conception of ‘me thinking about Achilles’ rather than ‘me identifying with Achilles’ was born.”[6] Finally, intellectuals could escape the restrictions of memorization and use ideas that could only be relayed through text – “man in his new inner isolation confronts the phenomenon of his own autonomous personality and accepts it.”[7]

“The Greek ego in order to achieve that kind of cultural experience which after Plato became possible and then normal must stop identifying itself successively with a whole series of polymorphic vivid narrative situations; must stop re-enacting the whole scale of the emotions, of challenge, and of love, and hate and fear and despair and joy, in which the characters of epic become involved. It must stop splitting itself up into an endless series of moods. It must separate itself out and by an effort of sheer will must rally itself to the point where it can say ‘I am,’ an autonomous little universe of my own, able to speak, think and act in independence of what I happen to remember.’ This amounts to accepting the premise that there is a ‘me,’ a ‘self,’ a ‘soul,’ a consciousness which is self-governing and which discovers the reason for action in itself rather than in imitation of the poetic experience.”[8]

The act of writing allowed the early philosophers to look into their inner selves and question the very state of consciousness. Instead of identifying with events and characters from poems, intellectuals were beginning to construct views of individual “thought” about those events and characters. A framework of abstract language was needed for this new understanding of the “self” and words enabled thinkers to understand the different attributes of “knowledge.”

This newfound journey into knowledge required the first philosophers to search for absolute definitions. There was a push to understand the autonomous person as “subject” and how that subject interacted with various abstract objects. The familiar Homeric Epic was full of contradictions which didn’t provide any working definitions – “…Agamemnon is noble at one point and base at another, or the Greeks were at one point are twice as strong as the Trojans and at another point are half as strong.”[9] This made it impossible to connect the “subject” with any solid relationship that would be unchanging. To truly understand the “self” and the world as a whole, philosophers began to pursue abstract ideas that were steadfast. These desires for the absolute eventually led to the vocabulary and syntax of equations, laws, formulas, and topics outside time;[10] through trial and error, the Greek mind engendered ideas of the Right, the Good, the Pleasurable, the Expedient, the Natural, and the Conventional.[11] For three hundred years, the first philosophers worked to form the tools of language to understand these new ideas better. After three centuries, it was time for a teacher to take these tools of mental power and forge them into an all-encompassing philosophy; a philosophy which focused on consistency and a higher form of objects. By the mid-fifth century, one man, in particular, walked the streets of Athens and grasped the true power of the “psychological and linguistic consequences” of his philosophical forefathers.[12] This eccentric man organized the abstract tool shed and pushed for a methodical understanding of the theoretical to attain true wisdom. We care about this man in particular because he is the main character in Plato’s writings and Plato’s one-time mentor – Socrates.

Chapter 3 – A Plane in the Horizon

“An honest man is always a child.” – Socrates

In a sense, this book should not be titled Plato, but rather Plato – The Student of Socrates. Most scholars divide Plato’s writings into three distinct periods: the Early, Middle, and Late Dialogues. [i] These divisions are not a hard and fast rule for understanding Plato, but they do follow a philosophical evolution. The Early Dialogues were primarily written through the historical figure of Socrates – whose original ideas formed the bedrock of Plato’s budding philosophy.[ii] Plato is the main reason we know about Socrates’ teaching because it was still uncommon at the time to record lessons and most pupils simply listened – a holdover from the oral traditions of the past. Socrates believed that “dialogue” was the best way to achieve understanding and knowledge; Plato wrote in a dialogue format to mimic the small question-and-answer circles of intellectual Athenian society.[iii] The age of Socrates saw an explosion of professionals who had supposed “wisdom.” These individuals were called Sophists, and they would charge men for the ability to acquire special knowledge. The Sophists all had different beliefs and different theories on how to achieve the optimal life. Socrates was the polar opposite to these Sophists because he did not sell his knowledge – paradoxically he stated he had no knowledge to give. Socrates only believed in the power of reason and that truth was never an individual possession – true revelation came from interactive questioning.[iv] Not one teacher or author had all the wisdom of the world and Socrates heartily disliked writing as a form of static information – “Accordingly, no book can actually embody knowledge of anything of philosophical importance; only a mind can do that, since only a mind can have this capacity to interpret and reinterpret its own understanding.”[v] Plato did his best to record Socrates’ wisdom through dialogue so that readers could come to their own conclusion; this is also why Plato never appears in his early writings – not wanting to claim any personal “truth.”

It is ironic that Socrates detested the written word when it was the written word that allowed Greeks to think about consciousness in the first place. Plato eventually moved on from purely “Socratic” philosophy – the Middle and Late Dialogues contained most of the philosophy which we now identify with Plato. Nevertheless, the Early Dialogues shaped the foundation for our understanding of virtue, the soul, wisdom, and the absolute forms of objects, all of which were pursued before the time of Socrates. What distinguishes Socrates most from his contemporaries is his sheer love of wisdom. He didn’t desire money, fame, or status; wisdom was the ultimate goal and Socrates spent his life teaching others that they did not truly understand their firmly held beliefs. He would regularly go up to prominent citizens and ask them about virtue, the soul, or even love. Each time Socrates had a dialogue, the person who thought himself wise ultimately left feigning ignorance.[vi] Sometimes, when knowledgeable people get corrected in a conversation, they get mad and seek revenge as if knowledge was a game. Targeted payback may materialize in a future argument or maybe a Facebook comment – usually harmless and uneventful; this was not the case for Socrates because he pissed off one too many “wise” Athenians. People were sick of the “know it all” who persisted in highlighting ignorance – they ended up accusing Socrates of corrupting the youth and sentenced him to death for his misdeeds.[vii] It was at this trial where Plato in the Apology recorded Socrates’ most endearing praise for the occupation of philosophy – “…the unexamined life is not worth living….”[viii] Philosophy for Socrates was not just a hobby or an impracticable set of beliefs but rather the means of living the best possible life. He believed himself to be a midwife of thoughts – “… he has great skill in assisting at the birth of a younger man’s thoughts, and in discerning whether they are healthy and well-formed or sickly and misshapen.”[ix] If one could not accurately understand the roots of happiness, justice, bravery, or the virtues as a whole, how could one lead a positive existence? In the Phaedo, Socrates professes that he would sooner be killed unjustly than give up philosophy because the latter would be the equivalent to death. [x]

Socrates would go on to become a philosophical martyr and inspire his star pupil Plato to continue the lifelong pursuit of wisdom. Without Socrates, there would be no Plato and many other classical philosophers who took up his torch after his execution. The philosophy of Socrates forms the heart of Plato’s future work and helps us understand the reasons behind Plato’s ultimate goals of defining the abstract. Socrates taught Plato to always question and identify the paradoxes of this life – not to end in failure but rather to push past ostensible answers towards a higher level of thinking.[xi] To better understand this high-minded goal, think of wisdom as a vintage WWII plane flying through the air. You want to get a better glimpse at it, so you start to walk and then you run. Eventually, you use reason and ingenuity to go faster and find the best vantage point. The plane is always in the horizon, and you fail to reach its actual source. The effort, however, is worthwhile because you are able to witness something spectacular and along the way you acquired new tools for navigating the world; especially compared to the people straining their vision and not moving at all. Now that you understand the background and purpose of Plato’s predecessors, it is possible to follow his philosophy and his motivation for pushing onwards to the horizon of wisdom. In the following chapters, we’ll focus on Plato’s most prominent pillars of thought which were expanded upon from Socrates’ own views; our starting point begins with the metaphysical: the Soul, the necessary component of our consciousness.

Chapter 1

 1.Plato: Complete Works edited by John M. Cooper (1997)

2.Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin (1995)

3.Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock (1963)

4.Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor (1926) (Dover Edition 2001)

5.The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman (2013)

 Chapter 2

 [1] Preface to Plato – Pg 94

[2] Preface to Plato – Pg 198

[3] Preface to Plato – Pg 199

[4] Preface to Plato – Pg IX

[5] Preface to Plato – Pg 295

[6] Preface to Plato – Pg 209

[7] Preface to Plato – Pg 210

[8] Preface to Plato – Pg 200

[9] Preface to Plato – Pg 247

[10] Preface to Plato – Pg 259

[11] Preface to Plato – Pg 303

[12] Preface to Plato – Pg 302

Chapter 3

[i] Plato: Complete Works – Pg XII

[ii] Plato: Complete Works – Pg XVI

[iii] Plato: Complete Works – Pg XVIII

[iv] Plato: Complete Works – Pg XIX

[v] Plato: Complete Works – Pg XX

[vi] Plato’s Ethics – Pg 278

[vii] Plato : Complete Works – Pg 37

[viii] Plato: Complete Works – Pg 33

[ix] Plato The Man and His Work – Pg 324

[x] Plato: Complete Works – Pg 50

[xi] Plato’s Ethics – Pg 7

 

 

Was Plato Secretly a Communist? – Chapters 1 and 2

Scroll down for Chapter 1 and 2 – download the book to answer the question of whether “Plato was secretly a communist.” If you are new please read below. 

I am happy to announce that the second installation of the Tackle the Library series is finally here! This book took me five months to write and I am thrilled to have the project completed. Plato is a tough dude to study and I read over 4,000 pages of text to write this tiny book. Do not fret, I guarantee that you will be able to understand Plato’s philosophy in this easy-to-read narrative. Below is the description.

Plato’s philosophy, political theory, and scholasticism shaped our modern day world. His ideas and writings are both important and honestly confusing. Have you ever wanted to learn about this crucial man but felt overwhelmed by the number of books on the subject? Have you tried to read dry Wikipedia articles on the “Forms” or the “Philosopher King” which soon made your eyeballs glaze over? Do you simply not care that much about Plato to commit a lot of time in dissecting his complicated beliefs? 

The Tackle the Library series takes the top 5 books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. Plato is one of the greatest philosophers of all time and is worth learning about because he attempted to understand topics which impact our everyday life: ethics, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose to name a few. This book makes nonfiction a painless process – no other text naturally explains the background, the evolution, the application, the history, and the paradoxes of Plato’s philosophy in a way that keeps the pages turning. Stop staring at that dusty shelf of nonfiction texts in the library and crack open a book that you’ll actually want to read.

If your curiosity is piqued, please give this book a try. It will take you a couple hours to finish and you will gain an entirely new understanding of the world. Just like my last book, We’re all Chihuahuas, I am having a special weekend sale where you can download it for free. Please click this link or any link you see on this page to download. For the next three days, I will post the first three chapters as a thank you to my readers. I hope you enjoy and gain something from the experience.

Without further adieu…

Chapter 1 – The Cave

“The beginning is the most important
part of the work.” – Plato

The path seems to meander in the distance and turn hazy in spots from shimmers of light-reflected heat. You’re on a hiking trail and slowly ascending a steep hillside during the peak days of summer – magnificent in beauty but sweltering in humidity. A quick glance off trail reveals a shaded spot and a possible resting place before the final push upwards. Sitting under the shade, you set your bag down and notice a small opening. It is a hole that emits cold air – what appears to be the entry to a natural cave. After an arduous dig, the gap widens to a large opening that teases the curiosity. Slowly you descend until your eyes adjust and all of the surroundings become discernible; this is no ordinary cave but rather one with a group of mystified inhabitants staring at a particular wall. These inhabitants were born in the cave and were forced, since birth, to watch the shapes and figures on the stone – created by the tiny holes of light behind them. They believe these shadows are actual objects and there is no more to the world than what is observed on that slimy edifice. You tap a few on the shoulder and break the spell of their imprisonment. You turn them towards the light source and show how the images are created; they are stunned and cannot believe that their reality was just a mirage.

Exalted in your good deeds, you try to lead them further out of the cave. Surprisingly though, you see the inhabitants turn back to their familiar wall and continue in their most comfortable state – ignorance. The truth is too much for them, and they prefer to look at the shadows instead of understanding their outer and inner worlds. Frustrated, you grab a few by the arm and you force them out into the summer day. The cave dwellers’ eyes sear from the brightness and they are unable to see. You slowly get them use to their new reality, and eventually, they grow in their belief and reason of what the world entails. They go back to the cave and try to get more people – only a few more decide to step out – most remain steadfast to the wall. Having done your job, you continue on with your hike and immediately tap your phone and post about your experience. You get to the top of the hill and check the news, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and various other media outlets; looking up for a second you see the horizon and have a weird thought pop into your head – “Am I also looking at the wall of a cave?”

The idea of “The Cave” is one of Plato’s most relevant and endearing metaphors. In today’s world, we no doubt would have an easy time finding “cave dwellers” who propagate stupidity and selfishness – just imagine Plato reading the comment sections of an internet post. Plato was not pretentious in his view of humanity but hopeful that man could turn from ignorance and reach a better life through active reasoning; Plato wrote, “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” This cultivation begins with the belief that wisdom is something worth pursuing and that we can climb above our “sense perception” to a greater realm of understanding. Plato’s highest goal in life was not understanding the physical realities of the world – which our cave eyes could quickly ascertain – but rather the light source itself. The sun in the Cave metaphor is the source of all things good in this life: virtue, happiness, love, justice, courage, beauty, and loyalty are a few examples of the “goodness.” Plato wanted to understand a universal standard for the “Good” and a level of knowledge which would allow us to fully grasp our inner self – ultimately leading to a greater appreciation of life.

Plato made it clear that most people will never leave the wall in the cave and few will cross over the threshold of understanding the highest truths. The journey out of the cave is a lifelong process and I wanted to give the ascent my best shot. Like Bilbo Baggins exiting the Shire, I soon realized that my path towards truth was not an easy road and not a solitary pursuit. To understand Plato, I enlisted the help of others and decided to read the top five books on the subject: Plato: Complete Works – edited by John M. Cooper, Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin, Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock, Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor, and The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. These books were challenging and entailed 4,000 pages of cave-exiting illumination. My eyes are now turned from the wall and it is my job to help you understand how beliefs morph into knowledge and how knowledge morphs into wisdom. We will climb through the mountains of Plato’s philosophy and cover subjects which have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time: the soul, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose. Plato lived over 2,400 years ago, but his teachings seem more relevant today than any other time in history – our world sinking further into a “virtual” reality. Ultimately, we study Plato to open up our perspective of our inner self and our humanity so that we can live a better existence and help others to cross over the bridge of ignorance. So let’s turn our heads from the wall and take a step towards the light – let’s TACKLE THE LIBRARY.

Chapter 2 – Dead Poets Society

“Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.” – Plato

The streets of Athens bustled with all sorts of people going about their daily tasks: traders selling goods in the market, toga-wearing statesman negotiating policies in the corridors, crowds listening to poets animate the past, and intellectuals discussing the solutions to life’s most significant problems. Athens was the epicenter of Greek philosophy during the life of Plato. To fully appreciate the Greece of Plato we must go back centuries before his birth to understand why philosophy was even a topic of consideration. Three centuries before baby Plato even knew what a cave was, there was a famous poet named Homer. Homer is the author of the Greek epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, which were myths that encompassed the journeys of countless well-known characters: Odysseus, Achilles, Hector, Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes, Ares, etc. These poems, for hundreds of years, were transmitted through oral memorization; Greeks passed down their entire culture through the use of poets. These poets were not the finger-snapping goatee poets of our modern age but rather an odd amalgamation of trades – “The poet was in the first instance society’s scribe and scholar and jurist and only in a secondary sense its artist and showman.[1]“ Poetry was used as the primary tool for educating individuals and the process of memorization usually entailed music, body movement, rhythm, and regular recitations among groups.[2] The poems focused on actions and events involving characters that could easily be remembered by the listener – the student’s job “…was not to form individual and unique convictions but to retain tenaciously a precious hoard of exemplars. These exemplars of tradition made a student’s mental condition, though not his character…one of passivity, of surrender…”[3] There was no separation of self in the tradition of oral poetry because the student had to accept the content through group recitation to continue seamless memorization. This “group” identity spread throughout the entire culture and was the psychological zeitgeist when the initial philosophers began to think outside the box.

The oral culture of Greece began to change in the 8th century with the advent of the Phoenician alphabet – an improvement over rudimentary forms of syllabic symbols which were used before this time.[4] With this complex alphabet, artists, scholars, and the first-philosophers started recording entirely new information outside the usual confines of group memorization. The first works were primarily kept in a poetic form, but the famous author Hesiod changed this by using the alphabet for cataloging detailed information.[5] Writing allowed men to take a step back from the “passivity” of oral tradition and begin to think of abstract ideas for the first time – “As it did this, the conception of ‘me thinking about Achilles’ rather than ‘me identifying with Achilles’ was born.”[6] Finally, intellectuals could escape the restrictions of memorization and use ideas that could only be relayed through text – “man in his new inner isolation confronts the phenomenon of his own autonomous personality and accepts it.”[7]

“The Greek ego in order to achieve that kind of cultural experience which after Plato became possible and then normal must stop identifying itself successively with a whole series of polymorphic vivid narrative situations; must stop re-enacting the whole scale of the emotions, of challenge, and of love, and hate and fear and despair and joy, in which the characters of epic become involved. It must stop splitting itself up into an endless series of moods. It must separate itself out and by an effort of sheer will must rally itself to the point where it can say ‘I am,’ an autonomous little universe of my own, able to speak, think and act in independence of what I happen to remember.’ This amounts to accepting the premise that there is a ‘me,’ a ‘self,’ a ‘soul,’ a consciousness which is self-governing and which discovers the reason for action in itself rather than in imitation of the poetic experience.”[8]

The act of writing allowed the early philosophers to look into their inner selves and question the very state of consciousness. Instead of identifying with events and characters from poems, intellectuals were beginning to construct views of individual “thought” about those events and characters. A framework of abstract language was needed for this new understanding of the “self” and words enabled thinkers to understand the different attributes of “knowledge.”

This newfound journey into knowledge required the first philosophers to search for absolute definitions. There was a push to understand the autonomous person as “subject” and how that subject interacted with various abstract objects. The familiar Homeric Epic was full of contradictions which didn’t provide any working definitions – “…Agamemnon is noble at one point and base at another, or the Greeks were at one point are twice as strong as the Trojans and at another point are half as strong.”[9] This made it impossible to connect the “subject” with any solid relationship that would be unchanging. To truly understand the “self” and the world as a whole, philosophers began to pursue abstract ideas that were steadfast. These desires for the absolute eventually led to the vocabulary and syntax of equations, laws, formulas, and topics outside time;[10] through trial and error, the Greek mind engendered ideas of the Right, the Good, the Pleasurable, the Expedient, the Natural, and the Conventional.[11] For three hundred years, the first philosophers worked to form the tools of language to understand these new ideas better. After three centuries, it was time for a teacher to take these tools of mental power and forge them into an all-encompassing philosophy; a philosophy which focused on consistency and a higher form of objects. By the mid-fifth century, one man, in particular, walked the streets of Athens and grasped the true power of the “psychological and linguistic consequences” of his philosophical forefathers.[12] This eccentric man organized the abstract tool shed and pushed for a methodical understanding of the theoretical to attain true wisdom. We care about this man in particular because he is the main character in Plato’s writings and Plato’s one-time mentor – Socrates.

 

Chapter 1

 

1.Plato: Complete Works edited by John M. Cooper (1997)

2.Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin (1995)

3.Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock (1963)

4.Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor (1926) (Dover Edition 2001)

5.The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman (2013)

 

Chapter 2

 

[1] Preface to Plato – Pg 94

[2] Preface to Plato – Pg 198

[3] Preface to Plato – Pg 199

[4] Preface to Plato – Pg IX

[5] Preface to Plato – Pg 295

[6] Preface to Plato – Pg 209

[7] Preface to Plato – Pg 210

[8] Preface to Plato – Pg 200

[9] Preface to Plato – Pg 247

[10] Preface to Plato – Pg 259

[11] Preface to Plato – Pg 303

[12] Preface to Plato – Pg 302

 

 

 

My Newest Book is Here! – Chapter 1

I am happy to announce that the second installation of the Tackle the Library series is finally here! This book took me five months to write and I am thrilled to have the project completed. Plato is a tough dude to study and I read over 4,000 pages of text to write this tiny book. Do not fret, I guarantee that you will be able to understand Plato’s philosophy in this easy-to-read narrative. Below is the description.

Plato’s philosophy, political theory, and scholasticism shaped our modern day world. His ideas and writings are both important and honestly confusing. Have you ever wanted to learn about this crucial man but felt overwhelmed by the number of books on the subject? Have you tried to read dry Wikipedia articles on the “Forms” or the “Philosopher King” which soon made your eyeballs glaze over? Do you simply not care that much about Plato to commit a lot of time in dissecting his complicated beliefs? 

The Tackle the Library series takes the top 5 books on a subject and turns them into a cohesive story that is not only interesting to read but highly informative. Plato is one of the greatest philosophers of all time and is worth learning about because he attempted to understand topics which impact our everyday life: ethics, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose to name a few. This book makes nonfiction a painless process – no other text naturally explains the background, the evolution, the application, the history, and the paradoxes of Plato’s philosophy in a way that keeps the pages turning. Stop staring at that dusty shelf of nonfiction texts in the library and crack open a book that you’ll actually want to read.

If your curiosity is piqued, please give this book a try. It will take you a couple hours to finish and you will gain an entirely new understanding of the world. Just like my last book, We’re all Chihuahuas, I am having a special weekend sale where you can download it for free. Please click this link or any link you see on this page to download. For the next three days, I will post the first three chapters as a thank you to my readers. I hope you enjoy and gain something from the experience.

Without further adieu…

Chapter 1 – The Cave

“The beginning is the most important
part of the work.” – Plato

The path seems to meander in the distance and turn hazy in spots from shimmers of light-reflected heat. You’re on a hiking trail and slowly ascending a steep hillside during the peak days of summer – magnificent in beauty but sweltering in humidity. A quick glance off trail reveals a shaded spot and a possible resting place before the final push upwards. Sitting under the shade, you set your bag down and notice a small opening. It is a hole that emits cold air – what appears to be the entry to a natural cave. After an arduous dig, the gap widens to a large opening that teases the curiosity. Slowly you descend until your eyes adjust and all of the surroundings become discernible; this is no ordinary cave but rather one with a group of mystified inhabitants staring at a particular wall. These inhabitants were born in the cave and were forced, since birth, to watch the shapes and figures on the stone – created by the tiny holes of light behind them. They believe these shadows are actual objects and there is no more to the world than what is observed on that slimy edifice. You tap a few on the shoulder and break the spell of their imprisonment. You turn them towards the light source and show how the images are created; they are stunned and cannot believe that their reality was just a mirage.

Exalted in your good deeds, you try to lead them further out of the cave. Surprisingly though, you see the inhabitants turn back to their familiar wall and continue in their most comfortable state – ignorance. The truth is too much for them, and they prefer to look at the shadows instead of understanding their outer and inner worlds. Frustrated, you grab a few by the arm and you force them out into the summer day. The cave dwellers’ eyes sear from the brightness and they are unable to see. You slowly get them use to their new reality, and eventually, they grow in their belief and reason of what the world entails. They go back to the cave and try to get more people – only a few more decide to step out – most remain steadfast to the wall. Having done your job, you continue on with your hike and immediately tap your phone and post about your experience. You get to the top of the hill and check the news, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and various other media outlets; looking up for a second you see the horizon and have a weird thought pop into your head – “Am I also looking at the wall of a cave?”

The idea of “The Cave” is one of Plato’s most relevant and endearing metaphors. In today’s world, we no doubt would have an easy time finding “cave dwellers” who propagate stupidity and selfishness – just imagine Plato reading the comment sections of an internet post. Plato was not pretentious in his view of humanity but hopeful that man could turn from ignorance and reach a better life through active reasoning; Plato wrote, “Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land be good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.” This cultivation begins with the belief that wisdom is something worth pursuing and that we can climb above our “sense perception” to a greater realm of understanding. Plato’s highest goal in life was not understanding the physical realities of the world – which our cave eyes could quickly ascertain – but rather the light source itself. The sun in the Cave metaphor is the source of all things good in this life: virtue, happiness, love, justice, courage, beauty, and loyalty are a few examples of the “goodness.” Plato wanted to understand a universal standard for the “Good” and a level of knowledge which would allow us to fully grasp our inner self – ultimately leading to a greater appreciation of life.

Plato made it clear that most people will never leave the wall in the cave and few will cross over the threshold of understanding the highest truths. The journey out of the cave is a lifelong process and I wanted to give the ascent my best shot. Like Bilbo Baggins exiting the Shire, I soon realized that my path towards truth was not an easy road and not a solitary pursuit. To understand Plato, I enlisted the help of others and decided to read the top five books on the subject: Plato: Complete Works – edited by John M. Cooper, Plato’s Ethics by Terence Irwin, Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock, Plato: The Man and His Work by A.E. Taylor, and The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. These books were challenging and entailed 4,000 pages of cave-exiting illumination. My eyes are now turned from the wall and it is my job to help you understand how beliefs morph into knowledge and how knowledge morphs into wisdom. We will climb through the mountains of Plato’s philosophy and cover subjects which have perplexed humanity since the beginning of time: the soul, desire, virtue, wisdom, love, politics, and purpose. Plato lived over 2,400 years ago, but his teachings seem more relevant today than any other time in history – our world sinking further into a “virtual” reality. Ultimately, we study Plato to open up our perspective of our inner self and our humanity so that we can live a better existence and help others to cross over the bridge of ignorance. So let’s turn our heads from the wall and take a step towards the light – let’s TACKLE THE LIBRARY.

Why Opioid Addiction is Nothing New

I want to send a shout out to all my readers who downloaded a copy of We’re all Chihuahuas“Thank you again, and I truly appreciate the support!” For those who are new to my blog, I want to restate one of my goals which started about a year and a half ago; that goal is to read all 1,300 Penguin Classics and periodically document my progress through DaretobeWise.Blog. I am slowly making my way through this massive list, and the journey is definitely expanding my understanding of the world. Just recently by accident, I read two classics at the same time which covered opiate addiction in the past – Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey and Junky by William Burroughs – published in 1821 and 1953 respectively. Those dates are quite far back and surprising in my mind because I always connected drug addiction with modern times. I grew up in the age of eggs being cracked into a skillet and teachers yelling “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS!!!”

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My parents would always reminisce about the “good old days” when drugs were never used. There is no doubt that the current Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis – with 116 people dying a day from overdoses in 2016 (source). However frightening that statistic is, it is even more alarming when one realizes that people have been taking opioids since 3200 B.C. (source).  Of course in ancient times, the drug was not nearly as potent as modern pharmaceuticals, but it does highlight societies’ proclivity for the substance.  Morphine – a derivative of opium – became common in the 19th century for the treatment of everyday ailments. Thomas De Quincey became hooked on the drug after a severe headache – which sounds familiar to addicts today after getting hooked on prescribed oxycodone. The temporary high one gets from these drugs is explained by De Quincey…

“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

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Of course, this happiness fades, and the user is left waiting for his next fix. Eventually, the addict requires opium just to function – receiving just enough “high” to bring them back to baseline. That is the saddest part about addiction to opiates – an addict only uses so they can escape sickness. William Burroughs describes this sickness as the cells being saturated with “junk” and no longer being able to function without a regular infusion of the poison…

“You can list the symptoms of junk sickness, but the feel of it is like no other feeling and you can not put it into words…I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junkie, always a junkie.”

giphy2

This was written in the golden age of morality – 1950’s America – and highlights that opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. Both of these writers were wrongly prescribed opiates and suffered because of doctors who failed to learn from the past. It makes me wonder if today’s epidemic would exist if we required history classes for medical students. What if today’s doctors were required to read these two books? Would they think twice about prescribing oxycodone to a teenager who just got their wisdom teeth removed? Who knows but I for one was enlightened by the experiences of these two men – helping me stay far away from any future prescription refills. What is your experience with opioids? Have you known someone who became addicted? Are they helpful in managing your pain? I love reading your comments.

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1, 2, 3

For those wanting to get straight to Chapter 1, 2, or 3 – scroll down. For all those new, please read on.

I am excited to announce the release of two books over the next month. The first book, which is free to download from Amazon starting Friday until Sunday (Click any hyperlink in this blog to reach the download), is titled We’re All Chihuahuas: A Shaky Dog on a Human Journey by yours truly. Below you can read the description.

“This is the story of Max the Chihuahua. It is the harrowing adventure of pleasure and pain – a journey that mirrors the winding road of our own life. It is a tale of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human. An epic with a most peculiar cast of characters and a most peculiar climax – which will leave you thinking – ‘We’re all Chihuahuas.'”

img_0522

Max the Chihuahua

The second book is Tackle the Library: Plato which is the second installment in the series. As a special perk to all my loyal readers, I am going to post the first three chapters of each book on this blog over the weekend (this weekend will be We’re all Chihuahuas with Plato coming in a couple of weeks). It would mean a great deal to me if you would download the book for free at this link and leave me a review. Writing is only worth doing if it helps others – I hope this book brings you insight, smiles, and happiness.

And without further adieu…

We’re All Chihuahuas

Chapter 1 – The Reciprocity of the pound

The concrete floor was chilly and damp. Almost like walking barefoot on a sidewalk after the first frost of the season. The coldness of the ground was, however, warmer than the barks heard echoing throughout the chambers. Howls that sounded ethereal and forced – the noise of desperation. It wasn’t a place one would want to be or for that matter smell. Smell is such a personal experience that it is almost impossible to translate the horrible odor that saturated every surface of this lost place. The effervescence was a mixture of wet hair garnished with fermented feces and pooling urine. Ammonia was the main ingredient permeating the air – a continual assault on the molecular bays of the noise.

If one could surmise, they may guess that this place was a men’s bathroom at a Cub’s game after a bad batch of $1 chili cheese dogs; or maybe a more macabre setting like a gas chamber after a quick cleaning. No, it was neither of these humanoid places. It was a place further down the evolutionary ladder. A place where man and beast come to stare at each other in a manner not akin to preservation like a zoo – but rather a sight similar to used merchandise – like a decaying thrift store. It was the dog pound. More specifically the Flint, Michigan dog pound built in 1949 on the very same day the Russian’s tested their first nuke – perhaps a sign that there would be many hardships to come. The founding of the “pound” – as we will call it – is not our primary focus. Our focus is its inhabitants, with one inhabitant in particular. This is the story of Max the Chihuahua; a story not about saving dogs from pounds or even canine adoption. It is a story of how one small Chihuahua changed forever in that scary place. It is the story of all of us. It is the story of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human.

Chapter 2 – Old School Swat

The infant years of Max are not entirely known. He was born somewhere in the hillbilly outskirts of Flint where poor whites make their nests in the hope that their 1 mile move no longer categorizes them as living in the ghetto. It almost goes without saying that Max was born in the white Juggalo region of Flint because no sane black Flintoid would want a 6-pound rat-dog to protect their home. In this district of America, there are two choices of a pet – guard dog or toy dog. The former is the choice of those who need to compensate for some Freudian love of the father and the latter is the choice of those who can’t decide on the taxonomy of their pet – should it be of the canine or ferret genus? We must assume that Max was born in a 1920’s cut-out GM working-class home which now has Craigslist furniture, a 500 lb plasma TV, and a kitchen pantry stocked with every variety of Hamburger Helper (not store brand of course). This little puppy begins his life in the heart of America and Americana – Faygo pop and failed dreams.

Little Max was loved with the utmost care and affection. His Flintbilly owners had little money to spare, but they nevertheless showered him with toys, food, and name brand Chihuahua accessories: a bone-shaped bed, Superman t-shirt, and elf costume for Christmas to name a few. He was spoiled like an only child – the beezneez of all the dogs in the neighborhood. As with all cute babies, however, there was a slight problem with his trachea. Max was a barker. His bark brought about a mild pain in the ear and was more infuriating than a toddler singing a catchy tune on the radio. Max barked because he was excited about the world and all that it had to offer. He wanted to explore. He wanted to learn. He wanted to play. Everything that Max saw he barked at because his brain thought it was a fellow friend. Someone is at the door – let me celebrate! Someone is walking around the room – let me celebrate! Someone is giving me food – let me celebrate! Max’s brain computed everything as a proverbial birthday party – a never-ending waterfall of stimulus that mimicked a baby’s first taste of chocolate cake. BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! All day and all night long.

As one could guess, Max’s barking got old real fast. His owners could never focus on reading the instructions on the box of Hamburger Helper or watch YouTube videos about Game of Thrones conspiracy theories. They were invariably trying to correct little Max’s birthday party brain. Max would actually think the yelling was a good thing as if his frustrated owners were exploding verbal streamers. Slowly but surely, Max’s owners lost patience and began to threaten him with punishments of all sorts. They would put Max in his cage; this led to more barks of excitement because it was a game of hide-and-seek. They would spray water at him every time he made a peep; this led to more yelps of excitement because it was a water park experience! They would call Max a “bad boy” and shake their finger at him; this led to more barks of excitement because his owners seemed to be dancing the Charlie Chaplin. Finally, all came to a head one day when Grandma visited. Grandma was old school and believed in corporeal punishment – the likes not seen since the firing squads of the Wild West. Granny quickly took a rolled up newspaper and swatted little Max on his skinny flank.

The second that hard paper hit Max he felt what it was like to be a supernova in the throes of morphing into a black hole. Pain shot through his small body as if it were a drug injected by an addict itching for a fix. He squealed and bolted for the safety of his once “hide and seek” haven. His demeanor was timid for the first time. His composure was broken. His soul was shaken. This swat was no mere swat; it was a jolt that taught Max that the world is full of pain. The cosmos was no longer an endless river of sparkling stimulus born from the stars to flow directly into his heart. The world was, in reality, like a boulder which one attempts to climb – all the time risking cuts, bruises, and fatal falls. As these thoughts were going through Max’s head, his body began to convert the neural impulses of anxiety into psychosomatic tremors of fear. These earthquakes manifested themselves into a phenotype most common among small dogs – constant shaking. Max couldn’t control the shaking and with each new shiver, Max was reminded of the scary experience of the swat – an experience that set his life on a whole new trajectory.

Chapter 3 – Cries of a Former Life

Grandma’s brief visit, unfortunately, turned into a permanent stay. She was losing her mind and could no longer take care of herself; often one could find her folding toilet paper or pretending to understand the plot of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Her dementia came with auditory hallucinations and sensitivity to the slightest noise. Max soon learned that he was never safe around Granny because any peep he made would send her into terrors. The newspaper regularly met his hide for no particular reason. Sometimes Max would be quietly dreaming about something until a bolt of lightning woke him – his tired eyes beholding Granny with her newspaper. Of course, Max sometimes did deserve a swat because he began to bark as a form of revenge. He would carefully plan an escape route – gauging whether his cockroach-like body could squeeze through a space – and bark purposefully to upset Grandma. He would jolt into a crevice while curse words were hurled at him – the black and white of the paper skimming the darkness in search of flesh. It was a game of cat and mouse. Sometimes Max won, and sometimes Grandma won.

Max was testing the limits of his environment and climbing further up the craggy boulder of life. He still found enjoyment in things but his rose-tinted glasses were now binoculars – continually searching the horizon for potential danger – and possible mischief. One day this game all came crashing down. Max’s owners went out to celebrate their anniversary via breakfast at a cheap Greek diner. It was only Max and Granny at home, which meant Max had to be on his guard. Now around three years old, Max was more agile and faster than his former puppy self. It was much harder for Grandma to attack him and Max was beginning to flex his teenage ego. Like all teenagers, Max felt invincible and wanted to push barriers. Each Friday, Grandma ate two powdered donuts in remembrance of her husband who died of diabetes 20 years ago. Max knew this routine and knew that Grandma would always get up after her first powdered donut to get more coffee. With a sly position under the table, Max jumped up on the chair and sneakily grabbed the stout donut – hurriedly running behind the couch. The donut catapulted Max into a nirvana hitherto unknown. It was like the feeling one gets after not having sex for some time – the sensation almost virgin.

While Max was experiencing his pseudo-erotic moment, Grandma was coming back to the table and questioning where her donut went. Her dementia was making her question whether she had already partaken in the nostalgic treat. As if fate meant it to be, Grandma experienced a brief moment of lucidness. She knew for a fact that she had not eaten the donut and quickly spotted a trail of powdered sugar progressing towards the couch. At that very moment of following the sugar line to its terminus, Max exited his home of ecstasy looking like Rick James after a night out at the club. Both eyes met, and Max knew he only had one option – bolt to the haven of his cage. Time seemed to slow down at that instant. All sensations became piqued: The worn walls revealed new stains, the molding carpet felt extra sticky, the stale air whispered cigarette smoke and Axe Body Spray. Grandma, in a state of sheer madness, chased Max across the room and attempted to scoop him up before he escaped into the steel fortress.

Flying across the room, the two bodies synchronized with each other – Max was dumbfounded by the geriatric speed exuding from Grandma’s varicose legs. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four feet left until safety. What seemed a sure bet of escape took a turn for the worse when Max realized his blanket had been removed that morning for its weekly cleaning. Without his coverage the cage was like a fortress with no roof. At that very moment of misgiving, his owners opened the door with a large box of leftover gyro meat and a bouquet of Wal-Mart roses. The two-love birds witnessed the pursuit which was awkwardly climaxing. Max had to decide whether it was wise to enter a cage without a blanket or risk crawling into some crevice to wait out the storm. What to do? What to do? All seemed like a tangled cord of lights in Max’s brain until one knot loosened and the whole strand illuminated in tandem. The plan was to bolt through his laconic owner’s legs and catapult himself outside via the still open door. All was decided in a split second. Max weaved in between their legs and saw for the first time in his life the front yard – a small overlooked detail being that he always did his business on indoor puppy pads or his favorite spot on the shag carpet. The world was his oyster and exploration his aphrodisiac – without looking back, the cries of his former life faded in the distance.

Stay tuned for Tackle the Library – Plato later this month. Thanks again for your support. 

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1 and 2

For those wanting to get straight to Chapter 2 – scroll down. For all those new, please read on.

I am excited to announce the release of two books over the next month. The first book, which is free to download from Amazon starting Friday until Sunday (Click any hyperlink in this blog to reach the download), is titled We’re All Chihuahuas: A Shaky Dog on a Human Journey by yours truly. Below you can read the description.

“This is the story of Max the Chihuahua. It is the harrowing adventure of pleasure and pain – a journey that mirrors the winding road of our own life. It is a tale of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human. An epic with a most peculiar cast of characters and a most peculiar climax – which will leave you thinking – ‘We’re all Chihuahuas.'”

img_0522

Max the Chihuahua

The second book is Tackle the Library: Plato which is the second installment in the series. As a special perk to all my loyal readers, I am going to post the first three chapters of each book on this blog over the weekend (this weekend will be We’re all Chihuahuas with Plato coming in a couple of weeks). It would mean a great deal to me if you would download the book for free at this link and leave me a review. Writing is only worth doing if it helps others – I hope this book brings you insight, smiles, and happiness.

And without further adieu…

We’re All Chihuahuas

Chapter 1 – The Reciprocity of the pound

The concrete floor was chilly and damp. Almost like walking barefoot on a sidewalk after the first frost of the season. The coldness of the ground was, however, warmer than the barks heard echoing throughout the chambers. Howls that sounded ethereal and forced – the noise of desperation. It wasn’t a place one would want to be or for that matter smell. Smell is such a personal experience that it is almost impossible to translate the horrible odor that saturated every surface of this lost place. The effervescence was a mixture of wet hair garnished with fermented feces and pooling urine. Ammonia was the main ingredient permeating the air – a continual assault on the molecular bays of the noise.

If one could surmise, they may guess that this place was a men’s bathroom at a Cub’s game after a bad batch of $1 chili cheese dogs; or maybe a more macabre setting like a gas chamber after a quick cleaning. No, it was neither of these humanoid places. It was a place further down the evolutionary ladder. A place where man and beast come to stare at each other in a manner not akin to preservation like a zoo – but rather a sight similar to used merchandise – like a decaying thrift store. It was the dog pound. More specifically the Flint, Michigan dog pound built in 1949 on the very same day the Russian’s tested their first nuke – perhaps a sign that there would be many hardships to come. The founding of the “pound” – as we will call it – is not our primary focus. Our focus is its inhabitants, with one inhabitant in particular. This is the story of Max the Chihuahua; a story not about saving dogs from pounds or even canine adoption. It is a story of how one small Chihuahua changed forever in that scary place. It is the story of all of us. It is the story of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human.

Chapter 2 – Old School Swat

The infant years of Max are not entirely known. He was born somewhere in the hillbilly outskirts of Flint where poor whites make their nests in the hope that their 1 mile move no longer categorizes them as living in the ghetto. It almost goes without saying that Max was born in the white Juggalo region of Flint because no sane black Flintoid would want a 6-pound rat-dog to protect their home. In this district of America, there are two choices of a pet – guard dog or toy dog. The former is the choice of those who need to compensate for some Freudian love of the father and the latter is the choice of those who can’t decide on the taxonomy of their pet – should it be of the canine or ferret genus? We must assume that Max was born in a 1920’s cut-out GM working-class home which now has Craigslist furniture, a 500 lb plasma TV, and a kitchen pantry stocked with every variety of Hamburger Helper (not store brand of course). This little puppy begins his life in the heart of America and Americana – Faygo pop and failed dreams.

Little Max was loved with the utmost care and affection. His Flintbilly owners had little money to spare, but they nevertheless showered him with toys, food, and name brand Chihuahua accessories: a bone-shaped bed, Superman t-shirt, and elf costume for Christmas to name a few. He was spoiled like an only child – the beezneez of all the dogs in the neighborhood. As with all cute babies, however, there was a slight problem with his trachea. Max was a barker. His bark brought about a mild pain in the ear and was more infuriating than a toddler singing a catchy tune on the radio. Max barked because he was excited about the world and all that it had to offer. He wanted to explore. He wanted to learn. He wanted to play. Everything that Max saw he barked at because his brain thought it was a fellow friend. Someone is at the door – let me celebrate! Someone is walking around the room – let me celebrate! Someone is giving me food – let me celebrate! Max’s brain computed everything as a proverbial birthday party – a never-ending waterfall of stimulus that mimicked a baby’s first taste of chocolate cake. BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! All day and all night long.

As one could guess, Max’s barking got old real fast. His owners could never focus on reading the instructions on the box of Hamburger Helper or watch YouTube videos about Game of Thrones conspiracy theories. They were invariably trying to correct little Max’s birthday party brain. Max would actually think the yelling was a good thing as if his frustrated owners were exploding verbal streamers. Slowly but surely, Max’s owners lost patience and began to threaten him with punishments of all sorts. They would put Max in his cage; this led to more barks of excitement because it was a game of hide-and-seek. They would spray water at him every time he made a peep; this led to more yelps of excitement because it was a water park experience! They would call Max a “bad boy” and shake their finger at him; this led to more barks of excitement because his owners seemed to be dancing the Charlie Chaplin. Finally, all came to a head one day when Grandma visited. Grandma was old school and believed in corporeal punishment – the likes not seen since the firing squads of the Wild West. Granny quickly took a rolled up newspaper and swatted little Max on his skinny flank.

The second that hard paper hit Max he felt what it was like to be a supernova in the throes of morphing into a black hole. Pain shot through his small body as if it were a drug injected by an addict itching for a fix. He squealed and bolted for the safety of his once “hide and seek” haven. His demeanor was timid for the first time. His composure was broken. His soul was shaken. This swat was no mere swat; it was a jolt that taught Max that the world is full of pain. The cosmos was no longer an endless river of sparkling stimulus born from the stars to flow directly into his heart. The world was, in reality, like a boulder which one attempts to climb – all the time risking cuts, bruises, and fatal falls. As these thoughts were going through Max’s head, his body began to convert the neural impulses of anxiety into psychosomatic tremors of fear. These earthquakes manifested themselves into a phenotype most common among small dogs – constant shaking. Max couldn’t control the shaking and with each new shiver, Max was reminded of the scary experience of the swat – an experience that set his life on a whole new trajectory.

Stay tuned for Chapter 3 tomorrow and don’t forget to download your free copy over the weekend. Thanks again for your support. 

We’re All Chihuahuas – Chapter 1

I am excited to announce the release of two books over the next month. The first book, which is free to download from Amazon starting Friday until Sunday, is titled We’re All Chihuahuas: A Shaky Dog on a Human Journey by yours truly. Below you can read the description.

“This is the story of Max the Chihuahua. It is the harrowing adventure of pleasure and pain – a journey that mirrors the winding road of our own life. It is a tale of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human. An epic with a most peculiar cast of characters and a most peculiar climax – which will leave you thinking – ‘We’re all Chihuahuas.'”

img_0522

Max the Chihuahua

The second book is Tackle the Library: Plato which is the second installment in the series. As a special perk to all my loyal readers, I am going to post the first three chapters of each book on this blog over the weekend (this weekend will be We’re all Chihuahuas with Plato coming in a couple of weeks). It would mean a great deal to me if you would download the book for free at this link and leave me a review. Writing is only worth doing if it helps others – I hope this book brings you insight, smiles, and happiness.

And without further adieu…

We’re All Chihuahuas

Chapter 1 – The Reciprocity of the pound

The concrete floor was chilly and damp. Almost like walking barefoot on a sidewalk after the first frost of the season. The coldness of the ground was, however, warmer than the barks heard echoing throughout the chambers. Howls that sounded ethereal and forced – the noise of desperation. It wasn’t a place one would want to be or for that matter smell. Smell is such a personal experience that it is almost impossible to translate the horrible odor that saturated every surface of this lost place. The effervescence was a mixture of wet hair garnished with fermented feces and pooling urine. Ammonia was the main ingredient permeating the air – a continual assault on the molecular bays of the noise.

If one could surmise, they may guess that this place was a men’s bathroom at a Cub’s game after a bad batch of $1 chili cheese dogs; or maybe a more macabre setting like a gas chamber after a quick cleaning. No, it was neither of these humanoid places. It was a place further down the evolutionary ladder. A place where man and beast come to stare at each other in a manner not akin to preservation like a zoo – but rather a sight similar to used merchandise – like a decaying thrift store. It was the dog pound. More specifically the Flint, Michigan dog pound built in 1949 on the very same day the Russian’s tested their first nuke – perhaps a sign that there would be many hardships to come. The founding of the “pound” – as we will call it – is not our primary focus. Our focus is its inhabitants, with one inhabitant in particular. This is the story of Max the Chihuahua; a story not about saving dogs from pounds or even canine adoption. It is a story of how one small Chihuahua changed forever in that scary place. It is the story of all of us. It is the story of interchange between the brain of a shaky 6-pound beast and the soul of an unsuspecting human.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2 tomorrow and don’t forget to download your free copy over the weekend. Thanks again for your support. 

Mormons – Murders – Multiple Wives

In 1984, two fundamentalist Mormons – commanded by God – slit the throats of their sister-in-law and baby niece. Brenda and Erica Lafferty were victims in a long chain of Mormon-related violence stretching back from the 19th century. Today, mainstream Mormonism is a peaceful religion with almost 15 million followers – equal to the world population of Jews. I once knew a Mormon and toured their facilities in Salt Lake City, Utah – quite a sight if you ever get a chance to visit. Mormon history is very peculiar, and I wanted to learn more about it through Jon Krakauer’s book – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. Krakauer highlights how fundamentalism can lead to violence and subjugation in his compelling tale of present-day murder and the Mormon church’s growth from obscure to mainstream. 

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Let’s start from the beginning. Joseph Smith – the founder of Mormonism – was visited by an angel named Moroni while praying one evening in 1823. This angel revealed the location of golden plates that contained lost religious writings. After several failed attempts, Joseph was able to acquire the golden plates at the Hill Cumorah in Manchester, New York. The plates contained sacred records in an unknown language called reformed Egyptian. Joseph was the only one able to translate these tablets using special glasses. These plates would lead to the publishing of the Book of Mormon in 1830 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1838. Several followers joined Smith’s church which claimed that a lost tribe of Isreal came to America and that Jesus visited them after his crucifixion. Early followers joined Joseph’s church because he proclaimed that God could be reached through personal revelations and that there were no barriers in communicating with God. This was at a time when American religion was experiencing a Second Great Awakening. Unfortunately, membership was not boosted by the sight of the golden tablets because they had to be given back to the Angel Moroni.

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Joesph moved his church from New York to Ohio where Smith was charged with financial fraud – forcing him to take his flock west to Missouri. While in Missouri, the Mormons fought with their “gentile” neighbors and after a bloody fighting, they were forced to relocate to the state of Illinois. The Mormons, being a tight-knit group who disliked outsiders, did not get along with their Illinois statesman – violence and murder were common. Things began to fall apart for Joseph when he received a revelation from God that he should take multiple wives. The church split from Joseph’s philandering, and the prophet was arrested for suppressing the local press. While in custody, Joseph Smith was killed by an angry “gentile” mob who saw him as a religious fanatic. The Mormon church was in chaos after their founder’s death but one of their leaders – Brigham Young – led them westward to safety. By 1847 more than 2000 Mormons had left American soil and entered the Mexican territory of what is now Utah. 

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Joseph’s polygamy revelation was not taken well by most of the Mormon leaders. Joseph’s wife actually declared that God had revealed to her that she should have multiple husbands – this did not sit well with the prophet. After the prophet’s death, the church split into polygamous and non-polygamous sects – the polygamous group headed to Utah and the non-polygamous group faded into obscurity. Brigham Young supported polygamy and believed it was the best way for men to live virtuous lives since they wouldn’t be tempted by extramarital sex. The United States government banned plural marriage and fought the Mormons on this front until the late 19th century when they passed laws to seize all Mormon church holdings. The Mormon church finally bowed to the law and changed their policy of polygamy in 1904. Since the prophet proclaimed polygamy to be a God-given right, many Mormons broke from the main church to establish their own “fundamentalist” branches.

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Today about 40,000 Mormons are fundamentalists and still practice polygamy. A famous example is Warren Jeffs, who was purported to have 70 wives, many of which were 14 years old at the time of marriage. These fundamentalists are responsible for most Mormon-related violence and kidnappings – the most famous being Elizabeth Smart in 2002. Of course, there is a lot to say about this subject, but the point I want everyone to take from this post is that fundamentalism – in any religion or secular viewpoint – is never a good thing. To be a fundamentalist is to believe that there is nothing more to learn from the world – many times an outlook that leads to dehumanization. Remember that we must be open to both truth and empathy – when those two things are absent the result is the murder of a mother and her child.

What are your views on Mormonism, Fundamentalism, and/or Polygamy? I love to read your comments.

Pregnancy Pressure – A Man’s Perspective

Christina and I are currently in the process of trying to get pregnant; yes, even while I am typing this sentence, we are working towards making a baby 🙂 Joking aside, it seems like there is a lot of pressure when it comes to getting pregnant. This pressure starts as soon as puberty occurs. As an 11-year-old sweaty, hormonal kid, I thought sex always equated to pregnancy. The stress for girls was even higher with rumors that kissing in hot tubs can lead to a baby in 9 months. For most of my life, pregnancy was equal to a death sentence and an appearance on Jerry Springer. Even after getting married, I felt like it was taboo to get pregnant – imagining whispers of “Honeymoon Baby” or “Shotgun Wedding.” I am at a point in my life where all those previous misgivings have totally reversed. The best way to describe how I feel right now is to think of using your credit card at a store. I have a credit card with a chip which requires me to insert it into a slot. When you insert the card into the slot, there is a prompt that says “Do Not Remove.” There is a lot of waiting and looking around the store during this time. The calm of the “Do Not Remove” phase suddenly changes into the most stressful experience of the whole shopping process.

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The credit card machine – as if holding a poisonous snake – starts to blink and screams at you to remove the card
. It goes from 0 to 100, and I get anxious every time this mercantile exchange occurs. There is no yellow light for a transition – only peaceful green to morbid red. For most of my life – through involuntary abstinence and careful safety precautions – my thoughts concerning pregnancy were minimal at best. Sometime in the past year, however, the light turned from green to red, and something changed in my brain. It is as if the card machine started to scream at me and now every time I see a baby or a pregnant woman my mind sounds like this…

“GET PREGNANT NOW, GET PREGNANT NOW, GET PREGNANT NOW!!!!!”

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Most of this pressure is self-imposed, but there is still a lot of real pressure when friends and relatives are getting knocked up like the contagious flu spreading through an elementary. If I feel this as a man, I can’t imagine what women feel like – even those who detest the idea of having kids. We are social creatures, and we like to fit in – especially anxious people like myself. Christina has an app which tells her when to have sex, and I have been studying it like the treasure map in The Goonies. Should we have sex every day during your fertile window or every other day? Do I even have enough bullets in the cartridge to last that many days? Is it possible to use a turkey baster if I fall ill? Should you stand on your head for a few hours afterward?

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I feel sorry for my sperm right now, and my nether regions are probably pushing production like its Christmas Eve at the North Pole. That is what I am feeling right now – pressure in both of my brains. I thought I share this because it is something we all struggle with but fail to talk about. Pregnancy is usually portrayed through gender reveal parties and cute pictures – the reality is a steaming conveyer belt of soldiers going down a booby-trapped tunnel which is accessible only a few days a month. I really think we need to expand our pregnancy scare tactics from just teenagers – let’s make a sex-ed curriculum for thirty-year-olds.

Emotional Vampires

Have you ever met someone who drained you emotionally? Someone who took advantage of you or left you questioning your own sanity? Or even someone who defied all your niceties and norms of social intelligence? Unfortunately, most people answer yes to these questions and admit they were the victim of an Emotional Vampire. Emotional vampires are people that don’t suck your blood but rather suck out your emotional energy. I remember interacting with an individual in college who made me want to pull my hair out – many nights I laid awake wondering if I had done something wrong and how I could protect myself from being drained. My wife actually led me to this topic by suggesting the book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry by Albert Bernstein, Ph.D.

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Emotional Vampires are all around us, and they materialize as spouses, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers. Like the mythical Vampires in the movies, Emotional Vampires cannot see there own reflection in the mirror – oblivious to their blood-sucking personalities. These individuals do not have full-fledged personality disorders which are diagnosable; they do however have attributes which provide fangs for their emotional draining: antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid vampires are the most common. I like to think of Emotional Vampires like food sensitivities. People with peanut allergies have a diagnosed problem which could kill them; people with peanut sensitivities are bothered by peanuts, but they are not hospitalized if exposed. Using this same line of thought, a person with diagnosed Antisocial behavior needs medication and treatment. An Antisocial Vampire has “sensitivities” in comparison to the clinical diagnosis, but they still behave similarly in some degree.

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Bernstein provides several techniques for identifying and dealing with Emotional Vampires. You may know a Vampire if he or she thinks their needs are more important than yours, that the rules don’t apply to them, that it is never their fault, that they don’t need to wait for anything, and that they can get their way through throwing tantrums. This list identifies adults who are primarily toddlers when it comes to certain undesirable circumstances.  Let’s use the example of Ted and Nancy – a married couple who most of the time get along. Nancy is an OCD Vampire who continually needs order and control in her life. One weekend, Ted decided to clean the entire house and surprise Nancy with a night off from her regular routine of cleaning. Upon entering the home, Nancy says nothing and goes to the kitchen. Ted assuming that she didn’t notice – is about to bring up his hard work – when Nancy passively makes a comment about the dishes having dried on food. Ted kicks himself for not scrubbing them better and is about to bring up all the other things he cleaned when Nancy looks over at the garbage and tells Ted to take it out. Ted is frustrated at his mistakes and takes the trash to the curb; upon reentering the house he sees Nancy busily recleaning the dishes –  she grudgingly accepts Ted’s hug, but she internally scorns him as he desparingly slumps into the sofa to watch TV. 

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Emotional Vampires show their fangs when things are not going their way – which ultimately disguises their sharp weapons from most victims. The best way to combat these bloodsuckers is to not reward their bad behavior. Say you have a boyfriend who is a Paranoid Vampire. You go out for an afternoon with a friend and come home to a warm embrace. All is well until you begin to get drilled with questions as if you were hiding some malevolent secret. Paranoid Vampires will cross-examine their victims – ad infinitum – unless a firm stop is made early in the relationship. Most Vampires will stop in their tracts if you prevent yourself from becoming emotional and approach the situation with a rational mind. Vampires love fights – whether passive or aggressive – and no progress will be made if you mirror their well-practiced behaviors. The best thing to do is to take a “time-out” and compose yourself for a more productive-future conversation. Emotional Vampires are not “bad” people, and many are famous figures who run the world. The traits of a Vampire can be a blessing or a curse depending on the situation and objective – think of the success of a narcissist or the creativity of a histrionic. What’s most important though is to know when to spot a Vampire and to understand how to approach their off-putting behavior – the first step, however, is the hardest – a long look in the mirror.

12 Rules for Life

I’m trying to get back into psychology books after my excessively long venture with the American Presidents. This blog aims to document my journey of reading Philosophy, History, Psychology, and the Classics. This week I am posting about an excellent book –  which in a way covers all those categories. The book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson. Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it is written in a balanced manner – both conservatives and liberals find it hard to argue against these tips. Peterson writes almost like a philosopher and these 12 rules are backed up with plenty of metaphysical pondering – a big reason you should read it for yourself. Below are the 12 rules to life.

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1. Stand up straight with your shoulders straight

Try to carry yourself in a confident manner that doesn’t allow people to take advantage of you. Life is hard as it is – feeling mentally and physically slouched makes things worse – so fake it until you make it.

2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

Why do we take care of our loved ones but fail to take care of ourselves? Self care is not selfish.

3. Befriend people who want the best for you 

Iron sharpens iron. We need people in our lives that make us better. Stray from being a hero and don’t try to fix everyone – dysfunction many times wins over in a relationship.

4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not the useless person you are today

Don’t compare yourself to others because there will always be someone better. Instead compare your current self to your former self. Are you improving or stagnant?

5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Children need discipline and are born with inherent aggression. Adults need to guide children and teach them how to function in society. Don’t let your kids control you because you lack discipline – they will grow up to be terrible adults.

6. Set your house in order before you criticise the world

Before questioning the problems of the world get your own problems in order. We aren’t perfect so stop expecting life to always go your way.

7. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient

Life is all about delayed gratification. The things that take the most sacrifice are the most meaningful.

8. Tell the truth. Or at least don’t lie

Lies lead to problems in the psyche and the soul. Don’t lie because it just causes more issues in the future. Similar to the idea of rule number 7.

9. Assume the person you are listening to knows something you don’t

Seek first to understand and remember the wisdom of Socrates – “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”

10. Be precise in your speech

Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be vague when a problem arises. Confront issues head on and be truthful to yourself.

11. Do not bother children while they are skateboarding

Let men be men and girls be girls. There are biological differences between the sexes which should be fostered and not suppressed. Overprotecting children is not a form of love.

12. Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street

Life is tough, and we can’t explain away our suffering. If you see a cat in the street pet it and – experience for a second – the mystery of life.

Which is your favorite rule? I particularly like rule number 6. If we practiced just half of these rules daily, I’m sure we would be happier and healthier. 

Is God Dead?

Today is the holiest day on the Christian calendar – Easter. It is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of life; Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world. The secular version of Easter involves bunnies and Easter egg hunts which in Michigan is complicated by the presence of snow. Easter is also the symbolic beginning of spring which makes everyone optimistic about the weather and life in general. I always had mixed feelings about Easter while growing up. I loved the chocolate and the ham, but the church services just didn’t pique my interests. Sure, the flowers and the choir were a magnificent sight to behold, but I didn’t really understand why the pews were filled to the brim. The philosophy of Easter was complicated for me because I didn’t have a good grasp of what it meant to suffer. My parents did an excellent job of sheltering me and protecting me from the horrors of the world. It wasn’t until I went to college that I reexamined the importance of this holiday. My eyes were opened during my Senior Seminar class which focused on the three days of Easter.

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Good Friday is a misnomer because it was the darkest day in the history of the world. Jesus died by excruciating crucifixion on Good Friday and for all intents and purposes – God was dead. People don’t like to think of Good Friday like this, but it is entirely accurate – Jesus was both man and God – His death was the death of both God and the Son. This was the ultimate sacrifice, and for two days, the disciples of Jesus were in a complete state of darkness. All their hopes for the future were gone, and the man they had thought was their savior was gone. We are fortunate to know the end of the story; Jesus rose from the dead, and the world was changed forever – God is not only alive but interconnected to us through that sacrifice.

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To truly appreciate Easter I believe we must understand suffering. We must enter the skin of the disciples on that Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we enter that skin way too often even after knowing about the resurrection on Sunday. We live our lives many times as if God were dead – trying to be masters of our own universe; hope and faith are absent more times than we would like to admit. It is for this reason that pews on Easter are filled. People understand suffering and want to feel the mighty power of the resurrection – in their hearts, they know God is alive. So this Easter you need to make a decision whether God is dead or alive. Do you want to live your life trying to be your own god? Do you want to live your life as if there is no one looking out for you? I am tired of trying to control my little universe – I want to give my worries to the Creator of the actual universe. So it’s your decision, Friday or Sunday, dead or alive. I have a postcard on my desk that says “God is here with you Jon!” If you are reading this, know that God is with you right now

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …” Mathew 6:25-34

So this Easter really contemplate the beginning, middle, and end of the story; the end, in this case, is a happy one with an essential sequel. So is God dead? For me, I know God is alive, and I hope you feel the same way in your heart. Happy Easter.

10 Things I Learned About Ancient Rome

I just got back from a vacation to Rome! I don’t have any pictures or souvenirs because this vacation was more imaginary than real. Thanks to my student loans, I was only able to explore the great city and the history of the Roman Empire through my most recent book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. I won’t bore you with the details of the Roman Empire because I think my last few posts have been a little dry. I do have a funny anecdote and a short list that may pique your interest in Roman history. First the anecdote. I was reading this book at 8:30 in the morning outside the Secretary of State. The doors were locked until 9:00 am but the gracious staff members had allowed people to queue just outside the main seating area. This small vestibule was packed full of people and the well-structured line that had originally formed soon morphed into a large blob. This DMV-amoeba was made up of young and old who were anxious for the doors to open – so they could get on with their day. I had my book and was trying to read when a large woman answered her phone. This phone conversation was not meant for the waiting vestibule of the Secretary of State – most people began to shuffle their feet when her voice began to rise.

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I tried to focus on my book but I thought of something right at that moment that really brought ancient Rome to life. I was reading a book about a city in which there was probably a similar scenario over 2000 years ago. It made me think about Romans and their own frustrating moments – allowing me to see the humanity of a long lost society. Eventually, the doors opened and we shuffled in as if entering the Colosseum itself. This is a simple antidote but it is important to remember that when we read about the past we forget that people lived fairly routine lives that are often times looked over. I guess my point is that we can’t look over the details of the Secretary of State waiting room – those details sometimes teach us more than a book. Below find nine interesting thoughts about Ancient Rome.

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  1. The letters SPQR stand for “The Senate and the Roman people” – the war cry of the expanding empire.
  2. The founders of Rome were Romulus and Remus who were abandoned as infants and survived by sucking on the milk of a wolf – another name for a wolf in early Latin was a prostitute.
  3. Roman public baths were a regular source of infectious diseases and many Roman dignitaries died from infection after visiting them.
  4. Rome itself was ridden with malaria because of its location next to the water and the humid climate – disease killed more Romans than any invading barbarian horde.
  5. The Roman law laid out best practices for killing infants who were not desired.
  6. Rome was the first city in the world to reach a population of 1,000,000 people.
  7. Rome was founded in the 8th century BC – a simple town for many years before it began to control rival towns on the Italian Penisula.
  8. The city of Rome’s population in the first century BC was estimated to be 40% slaves – all different races and ethnicities.
  9. Emperor Caligula was supposed to have made his horse a consul and priest.
  10. Emperor Tiberius was supposed to have trained small boys to swim underneath him while in a pool and nibble on his genitals.

I hope these facts piqued your interest and help you appreciate a future vacation to the city of Rome or maybe just give you something to think about while waiting at the Secretary of State.

US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 2

I want to give a shout out to one particular reader for sticking with me through all these Presidential posts. Thank you, Allie Nye, for your loyal following and steadfast interest in a subject I find extremely relevant. Last week I posted about Ulysses S. Grant and for some reason, not many people wanted to read about one of America’s most popular presidents. For those who did read part one – I’m sure you had a sleepless night anticipating the release of Part 2. To all my readers who are sick of dead white men, I assure you this is the last post for quite some time concerning the subject. Let’s get back to where we last left Grant – a downtrodden man with a smeared reputation trying to bake bread for the Union Army.

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Before Grant could put his first loaf of bread in the oven, he was given a new lease on life from a longtime friend – Congressman Elihu B. Washburne of Illinois. Thanks to Washburne – who was a close acquaintance to Lincoln – Grant moved up the military ladder from simple aid to Brigadier General of volunteers. This meteoric rise was partially due to Grant’s talent in organizing men and his tenacious leadership. The now military leader would go on to win the Union’s first major victory at Fort Donaldson and the bloodiest battle in American history up until that point – Shiloh.  Grant became a national figure after these two events and was admired by Lincoln as an “offensive” general not scared of his Confederate counterparts. This executive admiration was contrasted by cries from the press that Grant was a “Butcher” and a reckless campaigner. To worsen Grant’s image, there were reports of him getting drunk on regular occasions – these being half-truths and whole exaggerations.

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By the end of the war, Grant would have decisive victories in Vicksburg and Petersburg; all the while devastating the south through his command of Sheridan’s cavalry and Sherman’s March to the Sea. He was promoted to Lieutenant General – which was the highest rank in America only held once before by George Washington. His military power reached its zenith at Appomattox Courthouse where he forced the magnanimous surrender of Robert E. Lee – pardoning all Confederate soldiers and allowing them to go back home without further prosecution. Grant by far was the most responsible person for winning the Civil War: free of vanity, generous to friends,  and patriotic to the core.

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Grant’s accomplishments in the Civil War catapulted him into the national psyche – on a level equal to Abraham Lincoln. He immediately enforced Reconstruction and ordered troops into the south to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves. For the first time in history, blacks were able to vote and Grant was elected as President in a landslide victory at the young age of 46. He championed the enforcement of the 13th amendment and helped pass the 14th and 15th amendments which ensured equal citizenship and voting rights for former slaves. It was said that Lincoln was responsible for freeing the slaves but Grant was responsible for fostering their humanity. He formed the Justice Department to prosecute the newly formed and powerful terrorist organization – the Ku Klux Klan.  Grant promoted a record number of blacks to public office and freely welcomed black activists like Frederick Douglas into the White House. He helped found the first National Park at Yellowstone and pushed for public education like no other president before. His popularity was so great that he was elected to a second presidency and the famous feminist Susan B. Anthony campaigned in his name.  Grant won his second term and was the first two-term president since Andrew Jackson.

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Of course, Grant was not perfect and he had several problems in his cabinet from nepotism and trying to lead the country with a military mindset. Politics were not Grant’s forte and he didn’t know when to back down from a political fight – a trait that helped him on the battlefield but hurt him in Congress. He was loyal to friends to the point of foolishness and this burned him many times when uncovering corruption schemes. By the end of his second term, Reconstruction was a dead issue and he felt helpless in his ability to defend blacks – a moral fatigue inundated the north. Upon retiring from office, he went on a two-year world tour where he met the most famous leaders of the gilded age – from Queen Victoria of England to Emperor Meiji of Japan. He was pushed towards a third term as president but due to George Washinton’s tradition of two terms, he failed to achieve the nomination.

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The end of Grant’s life is a sad tale of betrayal and suffering. Shortly after reentering civilian life, Grant trusted his financial health to a supposed friend. This swindling Wall Street man stole all of Grant’s family and friends’ money through the use of a pyramid scheme. He was left penniless and only sustained himself through donations from admirers across the country. One day, Grant experienced a sharp pain in his mouth – the annoyance was actually throat cancer. To prevent his family from complete poverty upon his death, Grant wrote a memoir that Mark Twain would go on to publish. He wrote his memoir in excruciating pain and barely finished it before dying in 1885 – his body only weighed 90 lbs from his inability to drink and eat. His memoir gained $450,000 dollars in royalties ($11,000,000 in today’s value) and his funeral in New York was attended by 1.5 million people – eulogized as a man equal to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He was a man of character and virtue who overcame his vices of drink and stood up for society’s downtrodden – making him one of my favorite presidents. Next time you have a $50 bill, use Grant’s face to go buy Ron Chernow’s book and some baked goods in commemoration.
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US Grant – America’s Unlikely Hero – Part 1

A long time ago, my good friend Chuck asked me an interesting question. “Jon do you have a favorite author that writes like a fine wine or a three-star Michelin restaurant? I honestly had no answer to this detailed inquiry. At that time I was just starting on my journey of reading, and I couldn’t distinguish an average author from a great author. My palate was not entirely up to par, and my neural taste buds were still in an immature state. I finally have an answer for my friend after being exposed to so many different writing styles – the author Ron Chernow. Chernow writes biographies in such a detailed way that the reader feels like a fly on the wall of history. He is most famous for his book on Alexander Hamilton which became a hit Broadway play and his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on George Washington.

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His books regularly make appearances on the New York Times bestseller list even though they are on antiquated topics and extremely large in breadth. I picked up his most recent book Grant, which is 1100 pages and a fascinating tale of 19th-century history. I would argue that any person who dislikes history would love this book and find newfound interests. Think of Chernow as a gourmet chef and Ulysses S. Grant as a prized but unknown ingredient. Through excellent writing, Grant’s powerful life hits you in the mouth like Emeril Lagasse throwing spice into a hot skillet.

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US Grant was born in Ohio on April 22, 1822. His father was a tanner and he grew up as a shy boy underneath an outspoken father and overly standoffish mother. Grant was described as silent, modest, respectful of women, and courageous against neighborhood bullies. From a young age, he stood up for the underdog and spoke few words of malice towards even his most ardent detractors. He was sent off to West Point by chance since a cadet was kicked out at the same time Grant’s father requested his son’s admittance. While at West Point, Grant excelled at horsemanship but was no star pupil. He did excel at mathematics, but his career in the military did not look promising. Upon graduation, he was stationed in Missouri where Grant met his future wife Julia Dent and his future Confederate father-in-law Colonel Dent.

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During this time, America entered into war with Mexico and Grant was jettisoned into combat – an environment he excelled in. He served as a logistics specialist and honed critical military strategies during this conflict. Grant also learned something even more indispensable while in Mexico: the characteristics of the future generals of the Confederacy. Upon the completion of hostilities, Grant was stationed in the burgeoning gold rush town of San Francisco and Northern California. This was a difficult time for Grant because he missed his new wife and his family. He took to drink and was reprimanded for drinking by a persnickety leader – eventually leading to resignation and a marred reputation for the rest of his life. Grant did have a drinking problem, but it never got in the way of his leadership. If it had, he would not have achieved his remarkable feats after leaving the military in 1854.

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Civilian life was hard for Grant and he struggled to find his place in society. At one point he was so economically distraught he had to pawn his watch for Christmas presents and take a job at his Dad’s tannery store as a simple clerk. He walked around Galena, Illinois with his old military jacket and an unkempt beard – most people astonished to see his state of poverty. Compounding his problems, both his Father and Father-in-Law saw him as a failure and regularly forced their views upon him as if he were a child. He was a beaten man during this time, and his woes continued to worsen after his former California business speculations soured; these speculations were undertaken because Grant overly trusted acquaintances and people in general.

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He had such high integrity for himself that he couldn’t understand how other people could be cruel in their business dealings. When all seemed lost in Grant’s life, the most significant conflict in American history broke out – the Civil War. As if awakened by a jolt of electricity, Grant felt it was his chance to use his former military talents and serve the Union. The only problem was that no one wanted him because of his previous drunkenness and his paltry political connections. Not receiving any worthy commissions, Grant decided he would bake bread for the soldiers. Just before applying for this culinary position, fate opened up her doors. To be continued…Part 2 next week.

The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.
– Ulysses S. Grant

I Hate February

I hate February. February in Michigan is an entire month of dirty black snow piled in the parking lot of Walmart- jamming shopping cart movements and soaking unsuspecting tennis shoes. February, in Old English, use to be known as “Mud Month” and I swear I read somewhere that Native Americans used to call it “Month of Hunger.” February’s only redeeming quality is that it is 28 days long and it doesn’t drag on like January. Sure February has Black History Month and Valentine’s Day but we should honestly move both those events to March which holds more hope and positivity with the advent of spring. My Mom always chirps in when I get sulky over Michigan winters…You know the winter makes you appreciate summer more!” This Michigander philosophy should be the state’s official motto.

Pure Michigan – You Need Brown Snow to have a Summer Glow

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When my Mom says things like this I smile a little because deep down I know it’s 100% true. Once you get used to the seasons there is no going back. I think the change of weather is vital to human health. Have you ever lived in a place where it was the same weather all year round? I have and it destroyed my sense of time and space. Of course, people that live in those areas say it is fine but they don’t know what they are missing. The first legitimate day of spring after a terrible winter feels like a 24-hour orgasm; stepping outside into the sunlight and not having to wear ten layers of clothes is like walking out of a prison sentence. We are designed for contrast and a little masochism.

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The worst thing for our mental and spiritual health is monotony. We need regular changes in stimulus and to look away from the proverbial “white wall” of our daily life. Try to inject various changes into your routine so that dullness and depression don’t creep into your existence. Take a vacation. Go on a day trip. Read a new book. See a play. Go workout. Try some new food. Call up an old friend. Take a walk in the cold.  Spend a day without electronics. Say hi to a stranger. Write a blog post about February. Just try to remember that contrast is the key ingredient to life and without Winter we would never have Summer. I am at the tail end and my own “white wall” in respects to researching Plato for my next installment of Tackle the Library. So in honor of change and contrast, below is a list of all the new books I will be reading starting March 12th. This is a jumbled list of classics and some non-fiction – it doesn’t include six audiobooks which I am still picking out.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
The Anatomy of Story 
by John Truby
African Game Trails 
by Theodore Roosevelt
Maigret and the Ghost 
by Georges Simenon
The Pickwick Papers 
by Charles Dickens
All Quiet on
 the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Confessions of an English Opium Eater 
by De Quincy
The 39 Steps 
by John Buchan
The Subterraneans 
by Jack Kerouac
Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga 
by Hunter Thompson
Monsieur Monde Vanishes 
by Georges Simenon
The Moonstone 
by Wilkie Collins
Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” 
by William Burroughs
Another Country 
by James Baldwin

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The end of February also marks the completion of my Novella titled “We’re all Chihuahuas” which will be available in early March. I do hate February but at least the brown snow is good for getting work done. Think of some projects for yourself and start some new goals for spring. Don’t be stagnant and don’t waste your precious gift of life. February is almost over and I can see the sunlight peeking out of the clouds as I write this last sentence.

Meet a President on President’s Day

It’s that time of year again – President’s Day! This is one of my favorite holidays because I get to ask random people about their most beloved President. I usually get an odd look, and some people even feel offended as if I’m probing into their political ideology. Usually, I get the following answers: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Almost like a game of Pokemon, I try to find people with rare favorites like James Buchannon or Andrew Jackson. My favorite President is by far Theodore Roosevelt and if you like to learn more about his extraordinary life click here, here, and here. These past few weeks have been heavy with posts on Presidents, and it is partially because of today’s holiday commemorating George Washington’s birthday. This is a special post because it marks my last Founding Father to report on – John Adams. I read John Adams by David McCullough and highly recommend it to understand this peculiar second President of the United States. Who knows, maybe after reading this, you’ll have a new favorite.

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John Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusettes on October 30, 1735, to a pious farming family. As a direct descendant of the original Puritans, Adams began his life steeped in a culture of morality and tradition. Adams did not care for his early schooling and at one point wanted to be a farmer – this was vetoed by his father, and he was sent to Harvard College in 1751. While in school, Adams excelled in his studies and eventually became a lawyer with a promising career in Boston. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Abigail Smith, and they would go on to have six children – two dying early in life. While in Boston, Adams became an active opponent of the Stamp Act and unfair taxation by the British Government. He would actually go on to represent the British Soldiers who were responsible for the Boston Massacre – believing in the justice of the court and eventually receiving massive publicity from the trial. His reputation as a sharp lawyer and proponent of liberty led to his election in the First and Second Continental Congress. He was responsible for pushing the government into a bicameral legislator and the final passing of the Declaration of Independence – Jefferson said that Adams was the “pillar of the Declaration’s support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

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With his success in the Continental Congress, Adams was elected Ambassador to Britain where he negotiated the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War in 1783. He became Vice President under Washington and took the Presidency himself as a Federalist in 1797. Adams’ Presidency could be best summarized as a placeholder for Washington’s policies. Adams was pro-British and supported Atlantic trade between the two countries; he prevented war with France and balanced a tightrope of European powers trying to take advantage of the young republic. In the end, Adams’ presidency was nothing to do backflips over. His personality while in office was prickly and somewhat aloof – preferring the opinion of his wife over his cabinet members. Adam loved to argue, and he was not one to sway with public opinion. He had a strong moral foundation, but an excessive paranoia of opponents which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts – limiting the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

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He was viewed by Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans as a tyrant. Adams lost his reelection and eventually went into retirement near his birthplace in Quincy. He would stay active in political opinion and eventually mend his friendship with Jefferson in later life. John Adams did not excel in the public eye and was always best suited for the intellectual backrooms of government. Although he had difficulties appeasing the masses, he became a role model in respects to morality which surpassed most Founding Fathers. Unlike the Virginian leaders, Adams was an abolitionist from birth and never owned a single slave. He corresponded with his wife with a love that was genuine and uncompromising. Adams was a modest and shrewd businessman – living without the suffocating debt ubiquitous for southern leaders. Adams and Thomas Jefferson would end up dying on the same day – the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Adams is one of my “honorable mention” Presidents because what he lacked for social skills he made up for in reading and writing. He had a library of over 3,000 books and believed these words full heartedly…

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“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

Happy Presidents Day everyone! 

A Nostalgic Super Bowl

One of my favorite days of the year is Super Bowl Sunday. Football is the only sport I watch regularly, and it’s because I always saw myself as a “potential” football player. Growing up, I was a plump and awkward momma’s boy who had large legs which easily chafed. Running was not my forte, and I only participated in sports for two reasons. The first reason was the delicious snacks which were handed out at the end of each match. In the 90’s, there were no thoughts of restricting sugar consumption or bringing “healthy” treats; parents would bring boxes of Little Debbies and cases of discounted cherry flavored Powerade. I would always make it my goal to move as little as possible so I wouldn’t have to apply rash medication and that I would have energy at the end to run towards the snack tray. This brings me to my second reason for loving sports – the ability to use my Zebra-Cake-Roll figure to body slam unsuspecting victims.

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Kids growing up come in three sizes: string bean, fat, or early puberty. All I had going for myself was a full waist which required me to shop in the Husky section at JcPenny. I couldn’t compete with the “early puberty” kids because their sheer mass and facial hair growth would intimidate the most confident “American Beauty” parent. My prey were the string beans. I despised these kids because they always made fun of my blubber thighs while simultaneously shoving their faces with junk food. I envied their metabolisms, and I sought revenge on them whenever possible. In every sport, it is inevitable that a person would fall to the ground or get tired and lay down. Whenever this moment struck a string bean, I would simply waddle over, and body slam them repeatedly. Cries would come from beneath my adipose, and a huge smile would always find its way to my face. Body slamming became my superpower, and I discovered that football was the perfect avenue for crushing unsuspecting foes. Unfortunately, there is a lot more to football then just body slamming and no “fat-boy” can compete with the ubiquitous “early puberty” kids who are drawn to the sport like mustached men to a playground. I eventually grew up and stopped participating in sports. My love for Little Debbies never went away, and I still missed those body slams. To fill this apparent gap, I watched football every weekend. Of course, you may be asking why I didn’t get into wrestling if I loved body slams so much? Well, I did enjoy Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, but my family was too cheap to pay for pay-per-view events and Juggalo makeup. Hence, football was my primary outlet, and I grew to love sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and watching my favorite players: Jerome Bettis, Brett Farve, and Warren Sapp.

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Fast forward to last night’s Super Bowl. I didn’t have a party to go to so my wife and I watched the game together. The problem is that my wife was the “string bean” kid who I always despised as a child. She was the girl who ran circles around me and laughed at my bulbous thighs. To make matters worse, she was a “karate” string bean kid who filled every possible Asian stereotype. Christina would go to karate class, perform high kicks, and then go get a bubble-tea afterward. So understand, this is what I’m working with as my football viewing partner. I made it clear to her that there was no Pinterest allowed during the game and that she had to at least watch the commercials with me; somehow she ended up in the kitchen for an hour cleaning dishes and managed to find a Norwegian Cruise catalog to peruse while I wasn’t looking. I kept trying to get Christina’s attention by saying “this is a big play.” After the second half, Christina began to laugh every time she heard me say “this is a big play.” It became a joke between the two of us, and we actually enjoyed our time together through our mocking. I looked at Christina and thought to myself how much I loved her even though she was a string bean. The game finished and I smiled at my wife – her innocent face softly laying on the pillow. I thought to myself – “she still is just a string bean” – with a pillow as cushioning, I fell on her with a soft but sturdy body slam.  Hearing yells through the hallway, I got myself a sugary treat and took a deep breath of nostalgia – I checked for chafing and to my dismay turned to see Christina wearing her karate belt.

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The Last Founding Father vs. Donald Trump

It seems to be another hectic week for our President – Donald Trump. A government shut down never looks good for the leader of the government. I heard this news from my Dad who was quite upset – not at Donald Trump – but at Democrats. See, my Dad is not an anomaly. Whenever our views are attacked, our elephant instincts kick in. We “react” first and “rationalize” later – usually, that rationalization is far from sensical. My Dad and I like to bump chests politically, but in the end, we always just sit on the couch and watch sports. However, our discussions about politics are not zero-sum gains. Trying to understand another person’s views takes time, patience, and empathy. My Dad and I have learned a lot from each other and our conversations keep getting more civil – our tandem elephants are becoming more docile.

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As an extension of last week’s post about James Madison, I am going to further question what it means to be “presidential.” Time will tell how Trump does over the next years but how can we truly judge his performance? We need to know how other Presidents have done in the past so we can have rationale conversations into the future. To achieve this goal, I am reading every US President’s biography and writing about them for your enjoyment – here is a list of all the previous posts: George Washington, John Adams (coming next week), Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover. This week I read about America’s fifth president – James Monroe – The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger.

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James Monroe was the last founding father to be President and was actually born shortly before the American Revolution in 1758. Monroe was raised in Virginia, but unlike Washington, Jefferson, or Madison he did not own substantial plantation property. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was actually with Washington in the Battle of Trenton when the famous crossing of the Deleware River occurred; he was wounded in the battle but eventually recovered. The military at the time had a glut of officers, so Monroe was never able to receive a position of command. Upon National Independence, he took up law to begin supporting himself and his wife, Elizabeth Monroe.

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Throughout this time, Monroe was mentored by a fellow Virginian – Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson pushed Monroe to join him in politics and Monroe initially split his time between law and the Virginian House of Delegates. He would go on to serve in the Congress of the Confederation and help ratify Virginia’s Constitution. His political career took off when he became Ambassador to France during the French Revolution, Ambassador to Britain and Minister to Spain – negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, land treaties, and peace negotiations while overseas. He would go on to be the Governor of Virgina for four terms, US Secretary of State, and US Secretary of War. While Secretary of War, he virtually ran the government because Madison was inept during that period of conflict. He would go on to be the most popular President since George Washington.

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Monroe committed over 40 years of his life to public service and served in more public posts than any American in history. While President, he pushed for Western expansion and acquired more land from the Spanish in modern-day Florida. He protected American interests at a time in history when European powers could quickly take advantage of the young country. The Monroe Doctrine was a masterpiece of diplomacy for the Western Hemisphere and allowed independence for myriad nations in Central and South America. Monroe was described by friends and foes alike as having plain and gentle manners. He was a bold and robust leader in times of war and peace and fought for the Bill of Rights and against secrecy rules in Congress – opening the halls of Government for the first time in history.

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Monroe established the first state-supported public schools and pushed the development of public roads and canals to further commerce. Monroe was secretly an excellent President who accomplished more than I had ever thought. He transformed a fragile nation into a glorious empire – by making the United States impregnable to attack and rich in natural resources. He allowed Americans to expand westward and gain a democratic vote through the ownership of land; his Presidency saw the largest redistribution of wealth in the annals of history. Monroe was so popular that there were no political parties during his presidency; he was able to bring people together and put his country first. James Monroe indeed achieved “presidential” status during his Presidency – unfortunately, Trump is nowhere close to his level at this point…but I’m hoping he will pull through.

James Madison vs. Donald Trump

How would you rate Trump in his presidency? I don’t watch the daily news, but I do hear about the significant events through the grapevine; the most recent “Shit Hole” remark is not entirely surprising and falls in line with Trump’s previous propensity to say unpresidential remarks. But what does it mean to be “presidential?” Since I am fully immersed in Plato right now, my brain is constantly scanning for the root definitions of words. According to Plato, to be “presidential” would require one to be a “statesman” – a position of power which disseminates the knowledge of the “good.” What is the knowledge of the “good?” In a sense, it is the correct understanding of human morality and virtues.

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The question, however, gets more complicated because Plato argues we can never entirely obtain knowledge of the “good;” we have to try our best to seek out knowledge throughout our lives through dialogue and personal revelation. So does Trump seem to be on a lifelong journey of wisdom? To follow Socrates example, we’ll leave that question unanswered. Another component of understanding true “statesmanship,”  is to understand past examples in history. How can people honestly know what a good President looks like if their only comparisons are those of living memory: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George Bush Sr, Ronald Reagan, etc. To further add to the conundrum, how many of these Presidents have been personally studied – what do you actually know about their intrinsic virtues and morals? In an attempt to get to the base of understanding “good” leadership, I am reading all the United State President’s biographies. My most recent is on James Madison – James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. Next week I will post on James Monroe.

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James Madison was born on March 16th, 1751 to the Virginian planter class. He grew up accustomed to slavery and didn’t do much to further its abolition – less than George Washington and John Adams. Madison suffered from epilepsy at a time when epilepsy was thought to be a personal weakness, and he was a frail man in general – barely breaking the 5-foot barrier. Because of his health conditions, he took to erudition and became a prominent Virginian politician after attending modern-day Princeton. He was mentored by Thomas Jefferson and was close to leading figures of the Revolutionary War.

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Madison championed religious freedoms in the Virginian Constitution and cherished Enlightenment ideas. He was the father of the United States Constitution which was his political Magnum Opus. To push ratification of the Constitution, he partnered with opposite party member – Alexander Hamilton – to publish the famed The Federalist Papers.  Madison straddled party lines for the sake of his country and in the end, helped America form a stable central government while maintaining individual freedoms through the Bill of Rights. He would go on to serve in Congress, as Secretary of State, and as the 4th President of the United States.

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Madison was by far a not a perfect President and did not make satisfying decisions with respects to the War of 1812. His leadership skills were weak when it came to acts of force, and he had difficulties inspiring fellow cabinet members. By the end of his presidency, his successor James Monroe was practically running the government in his place. Madison’s gifts were behind the scenes, and he is most responsible for the United States withholding the Constitution we hold dear today. A Constitution which he designed to be changed according to ultimate liberties – the abolition of slavery to name one. Without Madison, the United States would never have had a Government which could defend itself from foreign attack while simultaneously preserving the rights of individual citizens.

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While in office, Madison had many opponents and is actually credited with forming the first political party with Jefferson. He was a scholar who believed in himself even though many people pushed him to the side because of his physical impediments. Was Madison “Presidential?” He is by far not the best President I have read about, but I do appreciate his quest for compromise and his pursuit of genuine liberty – a liberty that had to balance between the British Monarchy and French Jacobins. His virtues seem to be cooperation, determination, flexibility, and idealism. So how does Madison compare to Tump? I’m going to pull a Socrates again and let you ponder that question.

Working (Words) Out in the Nude

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Confused? This actually is a grammatically correct sentence. There are three meanings of the word Buffalo…

  1. The proper noun referring to the city Buffalo, New York
  2. The verb to buffalo, which means “to bully, harass, or intimidate”
  3. The noun referring to the animal – buffalo (biologically a Bison).

This sentence translated would read: “Buffalo (the place) bison (the animal), whom other Buffalo bison bully, themselves bully Buffalo bison.” Take a deep breath and don’t give up on this post quite yet. This oddity of the English language is a great example of etymology – the study of word origins and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. The average person usually doesn’t think before they speak; it is even rarer to find someone who questions the very foundations of speech itself. Mark Forsyth is one of those people – the author of the #1 International Bestseller – The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. The title “Etymologicon” is a real word that means a book written about etymology. Forsyth is a word master, and his work became a #1 International Bestseller. All words have a history, and those histories are fascinating. Below I am going to highlight the origin of ten words that were detailed by Forsyth in his book. These are just a few examples of what is in the book, and if your curiosity is piqued, I highly recommend you reading it for yourself.

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  1. A long time ago there was a tribe named the “Franks.” The Franks invaded the Gauls whose occupied area became known as “France” – the K replaced with a C. The Franks “disenfranchised” the Gauls and hence were themselves “enfranchised.” This oppression by the Franks allowed them to speak freely or “frankly.”
  2. A long time ago, there was a significant swath of persecuted people in Eastern Europe known as the Slavs. The Slavs were slain and subjugated by the Byzantine Empire to the south and the Holy Roman Empire to the north. Eventually, the word Slav became synonymous with forced labor – or Slave.
  3. A long time ago, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there were lords and peasants. The peasant was required to work the lords’ land and a small portion of his own which was granted to him. This mindless labor system was called Robot.giphy3
  4. A long time ago, Englishmen had trouble with persistent coughs. They could take morphine – a standard treatment at the time – but they didn’t want to become addicted. Scientists came to the rescue and invented a morphine substitute. This new medicine needed a brand name so the marketers asked the test participants how it made them feel. They all unanimously said it made them feel great and like “heroes.” Heroe was turned into the brand name Heroin.
  5. A long time ago, Hitler formed the National Socialist German Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei); the official identification of all Hitler followers in Germany. This Party name was unfortunate because in Germany there were many jokes about Bavarian peasants who were seen as stupid and lazy. The identifier of this class of peasant was the typical male name Ignatius – or its shortened version – Nazi. Hitler’s opponents jumped at the insult and abbreviated Hitler’s party name.
  6. A long time ago, medieval doctors believed the vein on the fourth finger ran directly to the heart. This anatomical connection eventually proved false, but the tradition of encircling the heart through the vein continued on – with the ring finger and the wedding band.giphy4
  7. A long time ago, monks were a common sight in Catholic Europe – hooded men who were far from models of chastity and virtue. Many saw them as filthy sinners who were no better than animals. When explorers decided to name hairy-man-like animals, they used a similar name – Monkeys.
  8. A long time ago, America decided to test a new hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. This weapon was more potent than previous – incidentally exposing Japanese fisherman to radiation. This event inspired the movie Godzilla and a French clothes designer who needed a name for his scandalous swimwear – which would cause an explosion of lust in all Frenchmen. This explosion would be named after the bomb test site – Bikini Atoll.
  9. A long time ago, Greek men enjoyed exercising outside in the nude. This arena of flesh was frequented by old and young alike – the older participants came primarily for sightseeing. The Greek word for naked is “gymnós” which eventually gave us Gyms and Gymnasiums. 
  10. A long time ago, people wanted to buy a house and hence needed a loan. There were two ways this loan could be fulfilled or said in another way – be put to “death”: it was paid off over a lifetime, or it was canceled after a missed payment. In many cases, it was doubtful that the person would make all these lifetime payments and so the loan would be dead to him. In either outcome, there was the likelihood of death, and hence the loan was called a death pledge – Mortgage. giphy5

So does this make you more curious about the words you use every day? I for sure look at diction differently now. Just remember that word meanings change over time and that new words are continually being invented. Don’t get too stringent with etymology and hop on the treadmill in the buff.

Rethink Your Righteousness

Have you ever gotten into a political argument with someone on the other side of the aisle? With the 2016 tire-fire-election still burning, I can guess the response to that question. Liberals think Conservatives are uneducated and unsympathetic. Conservatives think Liberals are bleeding-hearts and unpatriotic. Around and around we go till Uncle Fred is blue in the face and millennial Sally is red with furry. Growing up I was more conservative because of my parent’s love for the Republican party and in my college years, I swung more liberal because of inequality enlightenment. So what are my views now? Well, that is complicated because I just read an excellent book by Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt is a moral psychologist and has made it his life’s work to figure out what defines personal, community, and world morality. Let’s test your own morality…

A family’s dog is killed by a car in front of their house. They have heard that dog meat is delicious, so they cook it and eat it for dinner. Is this wrong? Why?

Or how about this one…

Julie and Mark are a brother and sister who, one night on a vacation together, decide to make love. Julie is already taking birth-control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe. Was it wrong for them to have sex?

One more just for fun…

A woman cleaning her bathroom decides to cut up an old American flag and use it as a rag to scrub the toilet. Is this morally wrong?

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So what do you think? Is it OK that the brother and sister have sex or the old lady scrubs the crapper with the American flag? Some may say that if the actions are not harming others, then there is nothing immoral being done. Others would say that there is a sanctity to specific objects and the human body, so those previous scenarios are entirely immoral. Haidt found that these questions are answered very quickly by people based on their intuition or “feelings”; reasoning in morality is an afterthought and falls short of ever explaining a knee-jerk reaction. Put in another way, we are tiny riders on large elephants. The elephant is our moral and emotional intuition that is powerful and somewhat wild. The rider is our reasoning and rational brain that tries to steer the elephant in the right direction but does little of the actual legwork.

Riding The Elephant

Our elephant is an amalgamation of life experiences, evolution, genetic predisposition, and worldviews. Haidt discovered through years of research that there are six “taste” buds of morality: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. People have different moral tastes just like they have different tastes for cuisine. Liberals are concerned with the care and fairness tastebuds and are much more likely to accept the above questions as moral because they do not harm others. Conservatives actually have a wider moral palate with the proclivity for liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. This is why historically, conservative candidates receive more votes because those politicians can run on a wider platform. In general, worldviews outside of the West focus more on the last four moral tastebuds because the social fabric of society is far more important than self-expression or “American Individualism.” The point here is not that Conservatives are better than Liberals or more righteous. The point is that both sides of the aisle have legitimate moral concerns that complement the spectrum of human good.

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So what should we do with all this information? First, we need to train our rider to control the elephant. Realize that your beliefs may not always be 100% correct and that listening to others is an excellent exercise in understanding. Realize that your liberal/conservative foe is not someone to defeat but actually someone to embrace – a ying-yang effect that covers the entire moral spectrum. Realize that there are many worldviews out there and that yours is only one type of lens. Hadit makes this recommendation for liberals – progress is good, but it must be taken with caution to protect the traditional pillars of society (Hadit is a Liberal). Hadit makes this recommendation for conservatives – use the liberal  “care and fairness” attributes when businesses prey on others with entrenched interests. Overall, the point is that both sides have important things to offer and neither is entirely righteous. Let’s control our elephants and steer our beliefs from their normal head-on collision to a more amicable side-long saunter.

Thank You! – Bring it 2018

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It’s that time of year again. That weird week between Christmas and New Years when people feel a mixed bag of emotions about the holidays – like the Hokey Pokey – “You put your right foot in…You take your right foot out….” I am ready for it all to be over because my stomach cannot handle one more day of “I’ll start after New Years,” and my motivation as a Philosopher is being destroyed by Man vs. Food Marathons.  This is my third year blogging, and I am still enjoying this quirky journey. In 2017, I published my first book on Amazon – Tackle the Library – The French Revolution; this was a milestone in my life, and I hope to finish the next installment on Plato by June of 2018. In respects to reading, I was able to finish 80 books with 40 of those being classics. I feel more well-rounded as a writer and a human being thanks to these stories of past and I highly recommend everyone pick up at least one classic this upcoming year.

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Sapere Aude did just as well as last year with over 1,600 visitors from over a dozen different countries; I am proud of this because SAPERE AUDE is not advertised or riddled with the common entrapments of the internet: sex, food, gossip, news, politics. That is why I always take this time of year to thank my readers because without your support I would probably give up on the pursuit. Seeing people each week learn from my writing is my greatest satisfaction in life. I know life gets hectic, and it is far easier to watch recipe videos on Facebook, but you find the time to read my posts – that is a fantastic compliment. So this coming year I hope that you will stick with me and continue the journey for wisdom. I will be attempting to read the same amount and diversify my writing with a new novel called American Chestnut – due to be finished by 2020. This year, make a goal for yourself to read at least one book a month. Try to challenge yourself and make it a book that will stretch your mind and your soul. If you don’t have time to sit down and read, try audiobooks which can be listened to while driving, doing chores, and exercising. Thank you again for all the help and please share this blog with friends and family who may also appreciate joining in our journey for knowledge.

Sincerely,

Jon

The Best Gift I Can Give

During the Christmas season, I am generally a scrooge. Not surprisingly, I loathe shopping malls where the almighty god of commercialization is most worshipped. This past weekend, I was at a mall in Metro-Detroit – a suburban sprawl which requires a 30-minute commute to seemingly every destination. This mall was packed to the gills, and I felt like a human bumper cart weaving in and out of overpriced clothing stores. Me being me, I ranted to Christina the whole time about how stupid it all was and how I couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over. My wife is the opposite of my curmudgeon self; her ideal world would probably be the one located inside a snowflake where celebrations occur for maxed-out credit cards – Whoville. After a few grumpy rants, Christina started to deter my negativity with every woman’s rationalization for the holidays…

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Me – “What is the point of buying all these gifts that no one needs?! I can’t wait till the 26th.”

Christina – “MY LOVE (not said in a loving way) stop being an old man. Christmas is all about tradition and celebrating family.”

Me – “Why can’t we just celebrate family without all the gifts? It just makes us materialistic.”

Christina – “We have to give gifts because God gave us the gift of baby Jesus. That is why we need to stand in line for an hour at Pandora and buy a $100 charm. And if you don’t shut up I am going to buy some gifts at that new vegetarian make-up store that doesn’t believe in “sales.”

Me – “Alright, I’ll stop. Maybe we can find a “What Would Jesus Do” charm?”

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This conversation is a microcosm of the American Christmas experience. That is why I wanted to write this blog about the reason for the season. Jesus is indeed a forgotten figure during this time, and I thought it would be fun to juxtapose some of His philosophy with the philosophy in my most recent classic The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Prince is a how-to guide to being a powerful and successful monarch during the 1500’s. Although the book is old, it has many sad truths about how politicians can climb the career ladder – the term “Machiavellian” is defined as…

cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one’s career.

Essentially, Machiavelli makes the point that a Prince needs to be ready at any time for battle…

“A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study; but war and its organisation and disciplice, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands…”

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 A key component in the battle of politics is to know when to be good and when to be evil…

“Therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.”

This advice sadly has a lot of relevance today for politicians and government officials. Put in another way, one must appear in public as an angel and in private as a demon – sounds like a House of Cards episode.

The advice of the Earthly Prince must be juxtaposed with the Heavenly Prince of Jesus. Jesus said that…

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:27-30
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Humility and generosity should be the most common tools of today’s leaders. Aggression, deceit, and pride all help individuals reach temporary power – shortsightedly killing the goose to get the golden egg. Leadership depends on relationships and relationships depend on some degree of love.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
So this Christmas let’s give each other the gift of mercy. Let’s be more patient with each other. Let’s be more empathetic with each other. Let’s be more honest with each other. The material gifts on the 25th will eventually fade away, but the rewards of virtue will make you feel like royalty throughout the rest of the year.
Merry Christmas Everyone

Philosophy for Dummies

Today is an important day in my life – it marks the first day of me being a full-time philosopher. You may be asking yourself what that job exactly entails. When one hears the word – “philosopher” – one usually thinks of old men with long beards arguing over arcane theories which have zero practical application. You may also think of a college student who can’t pick a major and wants to pay back student loans as an Applebee’s waiter. Or you may just think of a twirled-mustache-corduroy fricker pompously sitting in Starbucks reading a book on Plato. All of these stereotypes are sadly close to reality. I attempted to twirl my mustache this morning and have indefinitely retired my razor until my beard grows a proper length; I am even wearing a sweater vest while writing this – “dressing the part” may help stimulate pretentious brain cells. Suffice to say I am trying to bring some legitimacy to my new career which is neither respected nor lucrative.

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Let’s circle back to the question of what the job of philosophy actually entails? My previous co-workers – who I wholeheartedly miss – thought it would be funny to buy me Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris; Yes the same series of yellow books that 50-year-olds buy when learning Microsoft Excel. I laughed when I unwrapped this present of “knowledge” and was skeptical about the merit of its content. My skepticism quickly faded when I read that Tom Morris was a Philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame for 15 years and is world-famous for his books and lectures – all detailing how philosophy is practical for the modern world. Morris is not a dry-boring professor but rather a funny down-to-earth guy who once taught one of the most popular classes on Notre Dame’s campus – Philosophy 101. Morris defines philosophy as follows…

“The word philosophy just means ‘love of wisdom.’ This is easy to understand when you realize that love is a commitment, and wisdom is just insight about living. Philosophy, at its best, a passionate commitment to pursuing and embracing the most fundamental truths and insightful perspectives about life.”

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Philosophy is precisely what this blog aims to do – garner more wisdom and insight in order to lead a better life. Morris elegantly states what purpose this “insight” serves…

“Philosophy at its best is an activity more than a body of knowledge. In an ancient sense, done right, it is a healing art. It’s intellectual self-defense. It’s a form of therapy. But it’s also much more. Philosophy is map-making for the soul, cartography for the human journey. It’s an important navgational tool for life that too many modern people try to do without.

Philosophy is merely the act of examining life so that the journey is best enjoyed. To put another way, philosophy is a searching spotlight on a winding road – without the light, it would be easy to miss the scenery and possibly take the wrong path. In respects to illumination, William Ralph Inge once said that “the object of studying philosophy is to know one’s own mind, not other people’s.” Morris adds to this concept…

We question things as deeply as we can, in order to understand as deeply as possible. The ultimate goal is a firmer grip on who we are and what our place in the world really is.

But more often, philosophy can be thought of as a package of existential survival skills, along with the determined application of those skills in a sort of a search-and-rescue mission for the soul. Philosophy is not just a game. It’s not just a mental sport. It is the most vital use of our minds for getting our bearings in life.

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Hence, as a full-time philosopher, I will strive to learn those existential survival skills to not only enhance my own understanding but also my readers’ understanding through this blog and books that I publish. The ultimate goal is to bring the complicated subject of “Philosophy” to a greater number of people and bring it down a couple of pretentious notches. I didn’t go to school for philosophy or have any formal background in the subject – I frankly am taking the advice of one of the greatest philosophers of all time…

“The only true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing.”
-Socrates

It is not the pompous and complacent intellectual who dominates wisdom but rather the humble and curious truth seeker. So I hope that makes my title of philosopher a little less ridiculous sounding and I hope everyone sees that we all have a little Socrates in us – hopefully minus the beard and crappy pay.

Thankfulness for Loneliness

For the past three weeks, I have been living alone – my wife started her new job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner in Benton Harbor, Michigan. I wanted to work a few more weeks in Flint because I like my coworkers and our credit card is smoking because of some recent trips to the furniture store. I knew being alone would be difficult, but I had no idea that the experience would lead to a weird blog post. Before I get started, I must clarify that I was not “completely” alone – my Chihuahua stayed with me so Christina could entirely focus on her transition. The first couple of days after my wife’s exit were not bad at all; actually, it felt like a brief vacation – a break from picking up after myself and worrying about peeing on the toilet seat.

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The two to three-day break from a spouse is the worst possible thing for a marriage. The reason for this is twofold. The first is that it gives a person a false understanding of what it feels like to be alone. Humans seem to have a camel-like reservoir that enables them to go through mini-droughts of human interaction; we are just peachy doing our own thing for a couple of days. The second reason is the natural consequence of our camel mentality – we think that the reserves will never fail and our mini-vacation mindset will last forever – making us question the point of having a spouse in the first place. Pause for an important note. This camel mentality is only present in long-term relationships – so all you firecracker young couples can take a chill pill. As I was saying, it was great being a slob and my longing for Christina was just around 15% battery life.

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Fast forward to four days of being alone. The reserves just seemed to take a pitfall as if my hump was the gas tank of a hummer accelerating on the freeway. From that point on I started to look at pictures online of my wedding day. I watched Sam I Am and actually cried. I dreaded going home after work. I began to talk to my books as if the characters could listen. I called my friends excessively as if we were living in some 1980’s sitcom. I went on like this for close to two weeks. I began to miss Christina as much as a man wandering the desert misses water. My senses started to play tricks with me as if they too wanted some sort of interaction: unidentified objects flew past my field of vision, voices were heard in adjacent rooms, inner thoughts morphed into OCD tendencies.

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It all came to a head on one of the last days before I was reunited with Christina. As usual, I was reading, and the house was eerily quiet. There was a noise in my bedroom that kept nagging at me, and I thought it was just another one of my lonely hallucinations. After finishing my book, I decided to investigate and went to my bedroom. The noise was there, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it. With a flick of the switch, I saw what my loneliness had come to. The sound that I heard through the whole house was actually Max – yet again playing his skin flute on top of my pillow. As soon as the lights came on, he froze like a homunculus deer, and we both awkwardly gawked at each other. It was at that point that I reached my lowest level in this experiment of seclusion. I shut the light, went back to the couch, and just stared at the wall – with the same faint noise continuing in the background. Here is the moral of the story: too much loneliness is not suitable for man or beast. We need people, and we need to appreciate our loved ones. That is why in this season of Thankfulness I am appreciative of my loneliness – just the right amount makes you come bumbling into your wife’s arms like a soldier who has come back from war – or merely a traumatic encounter with a chihuahua. 

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The Forgotten Genocide

I found myself last night eating a double-decker plate of apple pie with an unfortunate amount of whip-cream on top. While feasting, I thought about how thankful I was to be able to shove my face with food. Have you ever been without food before? Not like a diet or a 3 pm snack type of hunger; the kind of hunger where there is no escape and no relief to the pain of emptiness. I am thankful this holiday weekend that God has blessed my family with the polar opposite of that painful state. Unfortunately, there are individuals around the world who suffer from hunger on a daily basis – over 796 million people lack enough sustenance to lead a healthy lifestyle (foodaidfoundation.org). That statistic is doubly disheartening with the fact that the world wastes one-third of all food production each year – 1.3 billion tons (fao.org).

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I bring up hunger specifically because I just finished a book that details one of the worst genocides in our modern history – Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo. This genocide took place between 1913 and 1922 against the Christian ethnic groups of Turkey – Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks. In total, the Turkish government killed an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, 300,000 Assyrians, and 500,000 Greeks through blatant murder and death marches. The book pointedly tells the story of Sano Halo – a Pontic Greek – who experienced these events and actually escaped with her life to America. As you’ll read, the Turkish authorities were ruthless against Halo’s family and used hunger as their principal weapon.

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The causes of this genocide are myriad, but one of the most significant catalysts was the Ottoman Empire’s fall during World War I. The Ottoman’s were prolific during the medieval ages but slowly declined by the 19th century – their central territory located in modern-day Turkey. At the turn of the 20th century, the Turkish government began changes in their state that aimed to lift up Turks and bring down historic ethnic groups located in the country. These “reforms” mixed with defeats in WWI to form a true hatred for everything “Western”; leading to the systemic extermination of millions of people to purify the decaying Turkish state and bring it back to its once glorious Ottoman apex. The government forced these “foreigners” – who historically lived in the area for thousands of years – into work camps, deportation marches, and mass graves.

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Sano Halo was 10 around the time the Turks came to her village and told her family to prepare to leave the next day. With guns pointed at their heads, they abandoned all their possessions, their livelihood, and their history. They were forced to march all day without breaks for food or water. The Turkish guards would beat them if they took a break or begged for food from local villages. Sano would end up marching 6 months straight – her younger siblings all died from hunger during that time. Eventually, even her mother died of exhaustion and Sano was forced to live with a Turkish family as a maid so she could have regular food.

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Sano was poorly treated by this family and eventually ran away. She was ultimately taken in by a family friend who arranged her marriage to an Assyrian man from America. She was able to reach Ellis Island and eventually had a happy family of 10 children. Sano was the unfortunate exception to this horrific story, and the Turkish government did their best to cover up its despicable deeds. In the aftermath of the genocide, textbook producers were paid by the Turkish government to exclude their actions and paint the country as a modernized beacon of the middle-east. This cover-up is one of the reasons Hitler felt so empowered to begin his own genocide…

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
-Adolf Hitler 1939

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Sadly, this Holocaust is still seldom recognized, and the Turkish government refuses to officially refer to it as a “genocide.” However, the genocide and death march was crystal clear for Sano, and thankfully her story was recorded so we can honor her family by spreading this knowledge. I challenge you this Thanksgiving weekend to think about how hunger can destroy and think about how blessed you are have not only food but a place to call “home.” Spread this message and help others learn this history. Not only will it help us prevent another genocide but it will help us be more thankful for the blessings we take for granted each and every day.

Further movies and books on this period in history…

Aghet: A Genocide (Documentary)

Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction (Documentary)

The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response (Book)

Suicide and Russian Wisdom

Have you ever contemplated suicide? Many of us probably have uttered some wish for death at one point in life. If I’m being honest, I think of death whenever my alarm goes off Monday morning and when I get an email from my boss with the subject line – We Need to Talk. Humans are unique in the fact that we have self-awareness and hence the ability to decide whether or not we want to continue living. No animal has the thought process to end its life; I will never find my chihuahua refusing tortilla chips so that he can slowly starve to death. It makes me think of this line in Moby Dick…

“For there is folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

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To end one’s life is a tragedy because there is always hope and always unforeseen victims. Last night I watched the Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams for the first time. The film follows a creative group of prep school boys and their experimentation with the world of poetry. Without completely ruining the ending, one of those boys ends up committing suicide because his father sees no point in him pursuing the arts. Unfortunately, Robin Williams committed the same act three years ago. The cause of suicide is complex and cannot be generalized; many times it is an amalgamation of different mental-health ailments. In some cases, suicide is performed as an act of revenge. Why would someone kill themselves for revenge? The best answer to this question comes from Leo Tolstoy in his epic novel, Anna Karenina. 

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Anna Karenina is set in 19th century Russia and follows various characters of the noble class. Anna gets mixed up in an affair and eventually is forced to leave her son and social standing; Vronsky, her lover, actually cares for her and does desire to create a new life for their unconventional family. Unfortunately, Anna begins to feel paranoid about Vronsky’s affections towards other women – which were baseless in reality. By the end of the novel, Anna can no longer love Vronsky because she thinks herself worthless – rationalizing that any moment she will be thrown to the curb. Anna had no control over her destiny because her husband would not grant a divorce. She decides to commit suicide because she believes it will punish the people in her life. She does end up eliciting negative emotions from Vronsky and her husband, but her suicide eventually fades from memory.

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At the end of the book, the characters are moving on and slowly becoming happier with each day. The sad fact is that Anna can never move on. Her reasons for suicide were revenge, and in a way, she achieved her goal. The only problem is that her goal of revenge caused only temporary emotions while the means to that end was permanent. This is the problem with suicide as a whole – feelings are transient and actions are permanent. Life moves on, and no matter what, there is always hope. There is never a time in our lives when change is not knocking at our doors. That change may bring positive or negative feelings – neither are constant. Whatever the reason – revenge, sadness, hopelessness, anger – don’t ever fall for the lie that change is impossible.

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina 

 

The American Dream…Nightmare

What is the American Dream? Is it a dream of opportunity and wealth? Is it a dream that is still attainable? Is it even a dream and not a nightmare in disguise? I always saw the American Dream as the ability to reach any goal in life. America was and still is the land of entrepreneurship, innovation, and Cinderella stories. Great men and women came to this country for a better life – many times from places where dreams were never mentioned. My wife and I are blessed to be on the right side of the American Dream (read on to know what that entails), but many people do not have the same position. For a majority of Americans, the dream is no more realistic than an episode of Leave it to Beaver. 

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Everyday people struggle to meet their bills, pay for food, find employment, save for retirement and notice optimism in the nightly news. It is even worse for minorities who not only struggle to find well-paying jobs but also worry about harassment and unfair treatment on an institutional level. To better understand the nightmarish side of America, I read Death of a Salesman by Arthur MillerDeath of a Salesman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1949 and is one of the greatest American plays of all time. It follows the downfall of Willy Loman – an exhausted salesman who is losing his mind in the rat race of business. It is a gut-wrenching ride that requires you to question the very foundations of success.

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On the surface, Willy Loman looks like a prime candidate for the American Dream: He has a beautiful wife, two sons, a suburban house, a successful traveling sales job, and friends who admire him. These surface level attributes quickly fade away with reality: He regularly cheats on his wife, his one son is a womanizer while his other son is a wandering thief, his house constantly requires repairs, his job no longer pays the bills, and his supposed friends are nowhere to be found. By the end of the play, Willy is completely lost in the past reminisces of “better” times and his dreams of being a respected businessman. Arthur Miller paints a sad picture of what the American Dream can look like – a lifetime of sacrifice only to be fired and thrown to the curb of American capitilism.

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In the end, Willy kills himself so his family can collect the life insurance – his funeral is only attended by a few people. So what should we take away from this anecdote of the American Dream? I think Arthur Miller was pretty spot on. The American Dream is not for everyone and success is as elusive as a fleeting mistress. We should reframe the American Dream from one of material/prideful success to one of relational/altruistic success. Let’s not dream of being loved by everyone and impressing others with our possessions. Let’s dream of lives filled with close relationships that are synergistic – fostering self-actualization. A life well-lived is in our grasp, but we have to reframe our dreams – less external pridefulness and more internal peacefulness.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
-Arthur Miller

We’re all Chihuahuas

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated everyone on my chihuahua – Max. For new readers, Max is a rat-dog that spices up my life by transmitting love through excessive barking and shaking. Max is in his teen-doggy years, and like most teenagers, he is experimenting with his nether regions. A typical night involves me reading while Max lies next to me – vigorously licking his wiener. Life is not complete until one sees a Chihuahua orgasm, but for those who never will, it entails half of the scrawny body flailing around like MC Hammer putting on a new pair of parachute pants. Each time it happens I sit there and ask myself, “What has my life come to?” 

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When Max isn’t masturbating, he is usually lying down shivering or trying to entice Christina into playtime. His favorite toys are a green-level Tae Kwon Do belt and an orange frog with no eyes. In previous posts, I have mentioned Max’s singular focus and his ability to exert intense concentration; an example of this focus occurred last night. Christina likes to eat while watching TV but is entirely incapable of multitasking. She will hold a spoonful of food near her mouth for minutes if a show is grasping her attention. This is ideal for Max because he knows that Christina will put her guard down – allowing for a quick gastronomic theft. Yesterday, as usual, Christina was transfixed by an infomercial for closet organizers, and Max seized the opportunity – he ended up eating an entire drumstick – bone and all.

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Upon this python-like feat, Christina began to panic and like any 21st-century woman – she immediately got on Google. For the next hour, while trying to watch the Lions game, I heard my wife read articles about dogs dying from chicken bones and how we should monitor Max’s crap for the next 99 hours. She ended up spoonfeeding the dog oatmeal so that his stomach would be protected from the razor edges of the bone – all while Max was trying to play with his orange frog. Max survived with minimal discomfort, and in the end, the only member of the Oldham family who had a stomach ache was my wife – at one point she was ready to rush Max to the emergency room. This whole ordeal made me think that we are all like Chihuahuas. Max shakes and is scared most of the time. Unlike Max’s physical shaking, we are always mentally shaking.

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We worry about things that have no real impact on our lives. Max has to worry about being squished or dying of hypothermia at temperatures of 75 degrees. What real dangers lurk around the corner for us? Most of our worries revolve around social status or future plans – things that are intangible and hard to control. So when we look at these small dogs are we not just looking at ourselves? When I ask Max – “Why are you shaking?” – shouldn’t I be asking myself the same question? Extending this analogy, do we also have a loving-Filipina woman looking out for us when we accidentally eat a metaphorical chicken bone?  We do but multiply that Filipina by a billion, and you have God. God cares for our shaky insignificant problems – He loves us more than we can comprehend – virtually the same as a dog’s understanding of his owner’s love. In the end, Max yet again gave me some wisdom, but hopefully next time it won’t require me to examine his poop.

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My Chihuahua – Max

How Reading can Prevent Sexual Harassment

I’ve been thinking a lot about Harvey Weinstein lately and how appalling he was to so many women. Mr. Harvey was like an incubus always searching for his next penile power grab. A lot of women have come out against Harvey, and the world has generally begun to talk more about the closeted topic of sexual harassment. Some of my friends on Facebook have written “Me Too” on their wall to show people that these disgusting acts are happening close to home. The question is how to fix this epidemic? Obviously, we must continue conversations about sexual harassment and push the message that it is never okay to take advantage of another person. That is an excellent starting point, but in my opinion, it falls short of what will actually help the problem.

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Let’s first point out the obvious – the majority of sexual harassment involves women as victims and men as predators. Not all men are like Harvey Weinstein, and not all men are predators, but a lot of men have a second brain dangling between their legs. This second brain is exceptionally persuasive. How powerful is it? Speaking for myself, when I went through puberty, my penis was like a mini-Danny Devito continually giving me commentary throughout the day. Suffice it to say, Danny Devito never really goes away because of the evolutionary urge to procreate. The primal default of a man is to spread his sperm throughout the world. The penis is constantly screaming “ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!!!!”

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These urges along with other primal tendencies, like aggression, are kept in check by societal norms, laws, and morals. Norms can only go so far; when push comes to shove, that second brain gives a rat’s ass about standards, punishments, or consequences. Sexual harassment usually occurs behind closed doors when the predator can get away with the act. So what can be done to control that second brain? I think a lot of men have a good handle on their Danny Devito because they were taught from a young age what was right and wrong. Maybe they had a great set of parents who modeled a healthy male/female identity. Maybe it was a community role model who exemplified the attributes of respect. Maybe it was a religious upbringing that taught the importance of the Golden Rule.

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Whatever the reason, some men have no problem shutting down that bald-headed beast. But, not everyone is so fortunate to be raised with these types of people or messages – and sometimes even with these efforts – some men miss the point. Speaking for myself, I was raised in a home with excellent parents who taught me morals, and I had friends who came from similar backgrounds; in later years I found out that some of my friends did sexually harass women. So how can we fortify this cracked roof of parental advice and community support so that young men won’t continue to slip through and cause irreversible damage? The key is empathy.

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In my opinion, empathy is the single hardest trait to master in life. Empathy entails stepping into the mind and body of another person: seeing what they see, touching what they touch, feeling what they feel. It is such a complex idea that no person will inadvertently acquire it as a skill – one has to be deliberate. So how do we become empathetic? One of the key ways we evolved to acquire empathy was through storytelling: stories allow us to use our imagination, gain knowledge and think more deeply about problems. Books provide the most in-depth opportunity for storytelling through first-person and third-person accounts; allowing one to fully understand the emotions and personalities of various characters. Reading permits people to step into worlds which are very different from their own and to explore divergent viewpoints. I was never very empathetic until I started to read the classics and entered the masterful characters of Dickens, Tolstoy, and Melville. These stories force a person to see, think, and feel what a character feels – empathy anyone?

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I never grasped the magnitude of rape, murder, harassment, and adultery until I took the time to sit down and open a book. This brings me to my ultimate point: We need to push young men** to read great works of writing so that they can begin to understand what it feels like to see life from different vantage points. Parents, teachers, and community leaders need to stop thinking books are for SAT prep or just entertainment and start realizing that they are instruments of empathy and deep-psychological understanding. For example, try to read Anna Karenina, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Les Liaisons Dangereuses without wrenching over the emotional states of the main characters. There is no excuse for not reading to your child, setting time for your teenager to read, or sitting down to read yourself – only a high source of empathy will allow a predator to stop – and step – into the soul of its prey.

This post started to get a little long (I actually want to turn this post into a book), but I would love to hear your comments on the effects of reading on your own empathy and how we should go about sexual harassment prevention. 

**We obviously also need young women to read, but this post is mainly targeted towards young men. 

1% Christian History

My old college roommate and I started a tradition last year. Each Christmas, we buy each other a book that we think would be beneficial reading. I didn’t know what to expect from my greasy friend but waited patiently for my gift to arrive. One day, I walked up to my porch and saw a package that looked like a wrapped encyclopedia. I wasn’t too far off; my dirtbag roommate bought me a 1000 page book on the history of Christianity – Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. This book loomed over me all year and I kept putting off what seemed like a Sisyphean task. By the end, it took me about 50 hours spread over a month.

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Christian history is difficult because it isn’t like normal history – it is a weird dance of facts, figures, and eternity. Having eternity involved complicates everything because you either have to take the Thomas Jefferson route and get rid of all supernatural events or take the Jack Van Impe route and prepare for the apocalypse. These two extremes frame the gamut of Christian beliefs and preface why Christian history is one continuous story of division. From the moment Jesus died on the cross, his disciples went out and preached the Gospel – within a generation, groups were already disagreeing on the intricacies of theology. The Christian church as we know it today is like a box of peanut-brittle that has been shaken by a two-year-old. Originally there was one solid chunk but now there are thousands of variant morsels. This post will only focus on one tiny but very important nugget of Christian history – as the title surmises, this book could fill 99 more blogs.

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The 1% we will cover is one of the most important moments in the Christian church – the Chalcedonian Schism. The Council of Chalcedon met from October 8th to November 9th in the year 451 AD. This Council was called by the Roman Emperor Marcian as an ecumenical meeting for all the important churches at the time – the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox. At this point in history, the Christian church needed to clarify theological doctrine and adjust the power roles of western and eastern leaders. The main reason for this meeting was to clarify the true nature of Jesus.

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How could Jesus be both God and man? Before the meeting, there were groups who believed Jesus appeared on earth as a man disguised as God (Docetism) while other groups believed Jesus was, in reality, a normal man chosen by God (Adoptionism). These beliefs led to Nestorianism (which viewed Christ as having some mixture of divine and human elements) and Eutychianism (which viewed Christ’s divinity as completely consuming his humanity like a drop of vinegar in the ocean).

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The Council of Chalcedon sided with a watered down Nestorian view which became known as Dyophysitism – which states that Christ is one person in two natures – “distinctively” man and God in one. This led to the creation of Miaphysitism which held the belief that Christ is one nature and that nature has “inseparable” components of man and God. Confused yet? Again, Dyophysitism believes that Christ is one person with two separate natures while Miaphysitism believes that Christ is one nature which is both divine and human.

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This Dyophysitism decision at the council was agreed upon by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the Oriental Church broke off from this definition and became known as Non-Chalcedonian. The Oriental Church includes the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. This schism had drastic effects on the eastern church as a whole by shifting power to the west and decreasing overall cooperation. This separation was one variable that allowed the new religion of Islam to take over eastern strongholds of Christianity; the west would not realize their mistakes until the first crusades 600 years later.

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Our current world is shaped by the decisions at this council: The politics of countries, the religious makeup in the Middle East, and the West’s ignorance of the Oriental Church. So what can we learn from the Council of Chalcedon? One huge lesson is that Christianity can come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes. Christians shouldn’t be divided into little pieces of peanut brittle. Christians should work together under one absolute truth – Jesus is the son of God who died for our sins so we can have eternal life and spread His message of grace; in a world still divided, we need to focus on that point more than ever. Don’t get hung up on the details and throw your hands in the air thinking religion is stupid. If you focus on loving others, you will obtain the other 99%. 

 

The Original Desperate Housewife

Do you ever desire extra spice in your life? Ever wondered what it would be like to be rich and famous? Or even just daydreamed about an evening that didn’t include the word “Netflix?” I for one have a high threshold for boredom. This characteristic stands out starkly when I spend time with my sister who is an adrenaline-junky-extrovert; a fun night for me is usually turning on the X-Files while a fun night for her is turning the pedals on her bike for a 20-mile ride.

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An awesome component of modern life is the plethora of options available to avoid boredom. This was not the case back in the 1850’s. Life during that time for the poor entailed a lot of hard work for both men and women. If you were lucky enough to have money, life could be filled with all sorts of social activities and luxuries. One of the worst places in society for boredom was that of the middle-class woman. Women in the middle-class had enough money, so work was not required but not enough money to be a member of the social sphere. This equation more times than not ended with the original “Desperate Houswife.” This was the situation that inspired Gustave Flaubert to write his most famous work Madame Bovary in 1856. A story that broke the mold for novels and was banned for some time because of its literary realism.

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Madame Bovary follows the marriage, affairs, and extreme dissatisfaction of Emma Bovary. Emma simply wanted more from life than what her simple doctor husband could provide – she dreamed of “true” love which she read about in her novels. Love to Emma was supposed to feel like a gush of refreshing water falling from the skies, not the humdrum monotony of her marriage – even though her husband was patient, caring, and intimate. She not only wanted a prince but wanted to be respected as a princess – when in reality she had the means of a farm girl. At one point Emma did feel she had reached complete bliss during her first affair…

“‘It’s because I love you,’ she would interrupt. ‘I love you so much that I can’t do without you – you know that, don’t you?…I’m your slave and your concubine! You’re my king, my idol! You’re good! You’re beautiful! You’re wise! You’re strong!”

As with so many affairs, the woman and man had very different outlooks…

He had had such things said to him so many times that none of them had any freshness for him. Emma was like all his other mistresses; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion, which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.

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Ouch! Unsurprisingly, the relationship dissolved when the chap realized Emma was a little nutty. This dialogue represents the main point of the book: seeking happiness and contentment from outside sources will never be satisfying. Emma never finds happiness because she is always looking for the wrong formula: If I could only have (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Happiness is never something that happens to us. Happiness is something we cultivate internally. It is a practice just like building muscles at the gym. Emma never “exercised” and many people today fall prey to the same idleness. Are you bored? Are you discontent? Are you fed up? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need to practice happiness. The best way to avoid the “Desperate Housewife Syndrome” is to be proactive and grateful. Gratitude is the single best exercise to prevent Emma-like mistakes that always end in disaster. What are you grateful for? I for one am thankful that I am not Madame Bovary’s husband.

***To practice daily gratitude, I downloaded the app “Insight Timer” which provides various meditation breaks. Try it out and friend me (Jon Oldham).***