Treasure Island

“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”
-Roberst Louis Stevenson

Growing up in the 90’s was the best time for Disney musicals. There was Aladin, Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Mulan, Pocohantes, and Muppet Treasure Island. Muppet Treasure Island was one of my favorites because I loved all things, pirates. A particular memory stands out to me that exemplifies my fascination for the Jolly Roger. One summer, probably in the mid-90’s, my Mom forced me to go to day camp. This day camp had everything a fat boy dreaded: high humidity, tag, shirtless swimming, mediocre cold lunches, and overly energetic counselors.

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In an attempt to forgo the see-through white t-shirt, I decided to opt out of swimming. Instead of having fun with the hyperactive kids, I sat under a shade tree and read an enthralling book on pirates; it explained pirate culture, swashbuckling battles, and treasure hunts. I think this event in my life stands out to me because it was the first time I realized that I was an old man in a young body. Today, my Mom and I laugh about those times, and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer have to carry around a tube of Preparation-H in the case of post-tag chafing. With this background and love of pirates in mind, I was excited to crack open my next classic, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Treasure Island was published in 1883 and is actually a children’s story written by Stevenson for his stepson. This novel is responsible for most of modern culture’s pirate imagery: Billy Bones, a parrot on the shoulder, a peg leg, Long John Silver, X on a treasure map, pieces of eight, “Yo ho, yo ho, and a bottle of rum!” The main character is Jim Hawkins, a boy who stumbles upon a treasure map and then goes on an adventure to retrieve it – one in which goes completely awry after Long John Silver and his pirate crew attempt to take the treasure for themselves. It is a coming of age story for Hawkins and the reader witnesses his transition from a cowardly boy to a courageous man.

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Throughout the book, there are various father figures for Jim and Stevenson highlights how difficult it is to decipher a person’s real character. For example, Jim loves hanging out with Long John Silver because he is fun and personable; on the other hand, Jim feels disconnected from the stern captain of the ship and feels uncomfortable in his presence. Unfortunately, Long John Silver ends up being the anti-hero who leads Jim astray while the Captain remains a bedrock of sense who eventually leads Jim safely home. Stevenson highlights the difficulty that children face when trying to decide good vs. bad, friend vs. foe, and caretaker vs. conman. The people we spend time with significantly impact our character and our life choices. Think of all the bad habits in your life; how many of those habits are the result of your friends’ and past social activities? Be weary of the Long John Silver in your own life and realize that there may be treasures waiting just outside your echo chamber.

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Abraham Lincoln vs. Donald Trump

The wise old owl lived in a oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why aren’t we all like that old bird?

What do Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump have in common? Almost nothing besides them being white-male republicans. Lincoln grew up in poverty, Trump grew up in wealth. Lincoln was self educated, Trump was ivy-league educated. Lincoln became a lawyer and politician, Trump became a real-estate investor. Lincoln took moderate stances on issues, Trump currently takes extreme stances on issues.Lincoln took great efforts to avoid political hostilities, Trump takes great pride in politic incorrectness. My mind has been comparing these two men because I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Lincoln by David Herbert Donald. Throughout this read, I marveled at how Abraham Lincoln was able to walk the precarious tight rope of politics to achieve extraordinary goals. Lincoln had to appeal to Radical Republicans, Conservative Republicans, War Democrats, and Peace Democrats all while orchestrating a Civil War. He was elected in 1860 on a platform that supported the institution of slavery but not its expansion. Between 1861-1865 he slowly implemented policies that eventually abolished slavery through the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. Lincoln never made decisions lightly and would contemplate every outcome with the utmost detail. Many times, Lincoln would sit back and listen instead of jumping in and making a rash decision. Lincoln’s talents of compromise and patience are what I most admire about our 16th president. People don’t realize that Lincoln was not always popular throughout his presidency and at some points had lower approval ratings than George W. Bush. He was constantly racked with stress and by the end of war he looked as though he aged 20 years. He had to deal with a divided country, a war that resulted in 600,000 fatalities, the reconstruction of the devastated south, mounting federal debt, political rivals, and a crazy wife. Through all of this, he still managed to make great decisions that were moderate and in the end brought the country back together. The United States would not be the same without Abraham Lincoln and I am so grateful that I was able to learn about him in a in-depth manner.

So what about Trump?  Trump is currently the front runner for the Republican Party which ironically Lincoln helped found back in 1854. The Republican Party is quite different today than it was in Lincoln’s time but United States politics is not. As in Lincoln’s time, there are rival parties and a lot of bickering over how best to run the country. Trump unfortunately is far from one to compromise and is very quick to respond to opponents via the media. He spouts hate and reminds me of a bully with a lot of money. Lincoln never ostracized and downgraded members of his own party; Lincoln especially never offended others publicly with the intent to draw publicity. These contrasts make me sad because I want the next president to be like Abraham Lincoln and I want Americans to remember what works and what does not work in politics. Politics requires compromise and nothing can be accomplished without careful consideration of all perspectives. We should not base our vote on whether a candidate is a Republican or a Democrat but rather on their character and their ability to work with others. Can anyone honestly tell me that Donald Trump will unite our country and make it better through his graceful character? Lincoln was one in a trillion but we can at least look for a candidate that mirrors him in at least some manner. Let’s learn from the past and remember that great leaders are those who are humble, not those who hold themselves higher than everyone else…Trump Tower anyone?

How to Remember Anything

Have you ever shampooed your hair and then thought to yourself, “did I shampoo my hair yet?” How about meeting someone new and immediately forgetting their name? My personal favorite is always forgetting directions and having to use my GPS like it’s a prosthetic. I envy people who can recall vast stores of information from their memory and I have always wanted a way to improve upon my cerebral faculties. In an effort to flex my memory muscles, I read Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. This is a really great book about Joshua’s journey into the eclectic world of professional memorizers; competitors who memorize things like decks of cards (world record: 21.1 seconds), number of digits in 5 minutes (world record: 500), random words (world record: 300 in 15 minutes), digits of pie (world record: 67,890 digits), etc. How the frick do they do these amazing feats of memory? Well, most of them use the technique of the “Memory Palace.”

The Memory Palace has a lot of history and was documented in the Rhetorica ad Herennium circa 90 BC by an anonymous author. Basically, it is a technique that combines familiar known places (think your house) with unforgettable objects. For example, let’s try to remember this grocery list: 7 bottles of wine, 5 ounces of smoked salmon, 1 tub of cottage cheese, 3 pounds of ground beef, 10 baguettes, and 3 boxes of shredded wheat. Using my childhood house I will first imagine my mailbox where there are 7 bottles of wine singing. At my front door there are 5 naked women hitting each other with big smelly salmons. Entering my living room, Kiera Knightley is in a big tub of cottage cheese taking a bath. In my kitchen, there are three cows grinding to music. Next is my bathroom where two people are making out but their appendages and heads are baguettes. Lastly, I go to my room where there are shredded wheat boxes having a threesome on my bed. The more weird, sexual, and sensory a image the easier it is to remember. We are excellent at remembering images and we are really bad at remembering words/lists. This technique takes practice but it can make you an ace at remembering words, numbers, names, and really anything you want. Professional memorizers are not superhuman geniuses but rather have determination to practice memory techniques like the one previously explained.

The next logical question is, “why do I need to remember things when I can just write it down or use my phone?”  To best answer this question we need to go back to the time before there was reading and writing. In the days of Plato, memorization was an art that the wisest people mastered. Since there were no books, all information was transmitted orally and hence had to be taken to heart if one wanted to reference it accurately. Into the Renaissance, people would memorize entire books, poems, speeches, and anthologies because texts were extremely rare. Individuals who wanted to learn had to internalize all the information. By committing things to memory, people were given stronger virtues and character because they had the wisdom of the past infused into their very being. What makes us who we are is the culmination of our memories and those memories dictate our world view, personality, and habits. In today’s society, we don’t need to remember much because we have the internet, easily available books, and smartphones. The problem with this is that our brain’s are essentially empty (compared to philosophers in the past) and when confronted with problems we get guidance from people with equally empty brains. Obviously, there are people who can give guidance but I think we would all be better off if we committed more wisdom to memory to improve our day-to-day lives. I personally, want to memorize quotes from historical figures, bible verses, historical dates, poetry, and complete works of classical philosophizers. We have an infinite capability to remember and the more we internalize the more we can grow in our understanding of life.