A Most Unlikely Emperor

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Today is my third wedding anniversary. Three years ago I read vows to a woman while crying like a little baby. Our relationship since the wedding has continued to mature – our laughs and conversations keep getting better and better. Probably the best part of being married is that I can feel loved even when I am laying on the couch in my underwear while simultaneously eating pork rinds and singing along to Toto’s “Africa.” Without Christina, I would not be able to regularly read and write; it would be nearly impossible to complete classics while getting texts and updates from Tinder or eHarmony. Instead of swiping right or left on an app all I have to do is swipe right or left while cleaning the floor – this causes an immediate summons to the bedroom.

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Thank you, Christina, for helping me to be a better man and helping me get through the tough books which my former self would never have opened. One of those tough books was my most recent classic I, Claudius by Robert Graves. There are some books that are hard but interesting and others that are hard and boring – the latter is I, Claudius. Before reading it, I had the feeling one gets right before running the mile for the Presidential Fitness Test – an increase in heart rate, anxiety, dread, and the overarching desire to play dead on the ground. However, like the mile run, upon completing this story about the Roman Emperor Claudius, I felt a euphoric high that only comes from adversity.

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I, Claudius is technically fiction but written with historical accuracy as the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius. Claudius was a family member of the Roman court and the book details his life from his birth in 10 B.C. to his ascension as Emperor in 41 A.D. What is cool about the autobiography is that Claudius details the lives of fascinating Emperors like Agustus, Tiberius, and the evil Caligula. Claudius was born with a limp and a severe stammer which forced him into isolation from his more “Romanesque” brothers and sisters; at the time physical strength, aesthetic beauty, and elegant speech were desirable attributes in the royal court. Claudius became a bookworm and spent his time writing obscure histories. Most people thought he was stupid and treated him like a second-class citizen.

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Rome was a brutal place, and his family members were routinely killed by rival factions to climb the political ladder. When Claudius was middle aged, his nephew Caligula took over the throne. Caligula was a monster who slept with his sisters, killed his father, and smothered the former Emporer Tiberius. Caligula would end up killing most of his rivals and any family member envious of the throne. The only one who survived Caligula’s insanity was Claudius. Claudius played dumb and used his wit whenever threatened. In the end, Caligula was assassinated, and by accident, Claudius was chosen to be the Emperor. It’s actually a great story because Claudius more than any of his siblings deserves the throne because of his humility, intelligence, and levelheadedness; ironically, these attributes not only make for a great Emperor but also a great marriage. Here’s to many more years with you Christina – thanks for helping me always get to the finish line.

“I am supposed to be an utter fool and the more I read the more of a fool they think me.”
-Robert Graves ,  I, Cladius

Would you be Sterilized?

Imagine today if Donald Trump made a decree that all morons and imbeciles must be sterilized to prevent further contamination of the American gene pool. Could you imagine the uproar? Even Fox News couldn’t spin that Twitter rant, but sadly, forced sterilization is still constitutional in the United States. Ninety years ago, in the infamous case of Buck vs. Bell, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr., declared by many as the wisest man in the United States, wrote the majority opinion summarized by this one sentence:”Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The history of Buck vs. Bell and America’s dark marriage to eugenics is detailed in the fascinating book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen.

Eugenics is defined as the purposeful cleansing of defects in the gene pool to improve a particular species. For example, eugenics is commonly used today when dogs are cross bred to remove negative health traits: English Bulldog + Labrador = Bullador. Human eugenics started in 19th century Europe with the advent of Social Darwinism. Essentially, people thought that “survival of the fittest” not only applied to animals but also to racist white guys. The whitest of the white, Nordic Europeans, viewed themselves as the beez neez and thought all other races should bow to their paleness. Many geneticists believed that every trait, belief, attribute, and characteristic of a person was passed on from their parents. There was very little understanding of the environmental impact on behavior and subsequently all vices were blamed on bad genes. Drunkenness in the Irish. Criminality in the Italians. Promiscuity in the Poles.  Usury in the Jews. Imbecility in the poor. Basically, anyone who was not a white-Northern-European-rich-pious-fricker was deemed to have poor progeny.

At the turn of the 20th century, America was becoming inundated with all sorts of new immigrants: tides of Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese. These new immigrants oftentimes lived in squalor and were more likely to commit crimes, have large families, and be less educated compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Hence, “real “Americans decided to clean up the gene pool and the States began to pass laws that allowed the sterilization of anyone who had unappealing traits. Intelligence tests were given out to see whether people were imbeciles or morons. These tests were completely erroneous and in many cases found that half of test takers were mentally unfit.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was passed in direct connection to eugenic beliefs on racial inferiority. It drastically decreased the number of immigrants from countries that were not Anglo-Saxon in origin. The climax of the eugenics movement occurred in 1927 when Buck vs. Bell went to the supreme court to determine whether Virginia had the right to sterilize Carrie Buck –  a poor-white-southerner. The case was a complete sham. Carrie was not an imbecile but rather an intelligent girl who had the bad luck of being raped and blamed for promiscuity. Carrie’s lawyer was actually on the prosecutions payroll and she was not informed about any details of the case. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a firm believer in the “survival of the fittest” and wrote that sterilization did not impede upon Miss. Buck’s constitutional rights.

The eugenics movement in America helped Hitler cement many of his policies during WWII. The Immigration Act of 1924 assisted the Holocaust by  barring Jews from entering America. Nazi Lawyers, during the Nuremberg Trials, actually used the case of Buck vs. Bell as a justification for 1000’s of sterilizations. In total, the US sterilized over 70,000 people throughout the 20th century – the last forced sterilization was in 1981. Today, Buck vs. Bell has still not been overturned and there are cases of coerced sterilizations in prison and mental health systems. Eugenics is still a major concern with advancements in technology that can screen babies for “undesirable” traits. Is it right for a couple to abort a child who has Down Syndrome? What if we get to the point that prenatal screenings tell us the risk of stunted height or ADHD? Who gets to define what traits are good or bad? America’s history with eugenics is scary but its future is even more precarious. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Social Darwinism and nonsensical-immigration restrictions. I think Charles Darwin said it best:

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

Rock Star Nurse

Whenever I get sick I turn into a three year old. Whining, tantrums, and self-pity all intermingle with my nose blowing, coughing, and aches. They say men are babies when they get sick. This is 100% true and I may take more advantage of the stereotype because my wife is a nurse.  Christina is a Psychiatric Nurse who enjoys working with mentally unstable patients; her desire to help the mentally ill may be why she found me so attractive. Christina is patient, caring, and simply a rock-star nurse. She is the type of nurse you would beg to have if you were sick in the hospital. There are a lot of mean nurses that really should change careers or retire; to get a truly compassionate and competent nurse is a blessing. Simply put, Christina is the Filipina version of Florence Nightingale. She has to treat people who many times don’t know where they are and what is truly real. There have been stories of patients smashing their heads against the wall, patients running around the unit butt naked, and patients selling sex for pain medications. This all happens during an exhausting 12 hour shift with very little time for rest. A nurse has to chart everything that happens to their patients which makes the paperwork absolutely horrendous. Added to the incessant documenting, nurses must contend with disrespectful and egotistical doctors. Doctors are notorious for belittling and berating nurses in extremely unprofessional manners. I know some doctors are excellent but in general that profession is made up of those who were good at studying but not good at communicating.

Our society idealizes doctors for their intelligence, composure, and god-like power. On the contrary, we should idolize our nurses because they are the ones who truly treat the patients. If you are admitted to the hospital, 90% of the care you receive will come from a nurse. The doctor will pop in for 5 minutes and if you’re lucky you’ll receive mediocre bedside manner. The nurse is the one who comes to your call light. The nurse is the one who cleans up your crap. The nurse is the one who sits down with your family to explain care. There is no other career that combines so much responsibility with so little respect. We need doctors to get off their high horses and work with nurses as a symbiotic team-not a authoritarian dictatorship. If you think I am exaggerating these claims just take 15 minutes to talk with a nurse-you will be enlightened with a plethora of anecdotes. We take for granted the care we receive and many times forget that nurses are overworked and unappreciated.  I want to thank all the nurses out there for doing what you do. Christina goes to work and is responsible for multiple human lives all while balancing paperwork, mean doctors, and naked people running through the halls. Thank you Christina for taking care of me when I am sick and taking care of people that truly need your awesome skills.

Beyond Intelligence

Are your kids smart or do they ride the short bus? I know that a lot of parents obsess over their children’s intelligence and get orgasms if they score in the 95th percentile on college entrance exams. If you have read some of my previous posts you may have a good understanding of my disdain for the modern-day school system. I am always curious of ways to better educate people so I picked up Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. Now, I wouldn’t recommend this book because it is poorly written and drove me crazy the entire time I was reading it. The authors reminded me of the girls in my old high school who always wrote more then they needed just to appear smarter (they also carried 5000 pencils in a special bag and would never lend me one). So how can you raise a productive-intelligent child? Well let’s throw out the idea that intelligence can be accurately measured by any one test or standard? There are actually nine major intelligence categories and it is almost impossible to find someone who scores high in all of them: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, interpersonal, naturalistic, and existential. IQ tests only really look at the linguistic and logical-mathematical dimensions of intelligence. So the next time that one friend starts bragging about his high IQ you should punch him in the nuts and tell him that you have a 180 point IQ in the dimensions of spatial and bodily-kinesthetics.

If you or your kids suck at tests then don’t fret because tests are designed to look an infinitesimal fraction of what you know through a medium that may not be your preferred method of expression. For example, Annie is very creative and loves to draw pictures of Pokémon. Well, Annie doesn’t like taking tests and fails to see the point…she always gets poor scores and she feels crappy about herself afterwards. Guess what? Tests are only good at identifying kids who are good at tests. That’s it! The sad fact of this is that good test takers are many times put in accelerated programs while the other different “IQ” folks are left behind. This tracts people into thinking they are smart, mediocre, or stupid. The main point I took from this book is that you shouldn’t say your kid are stupid or smart. You should push them academically through avenues that they are interested in. If Annie loves drawing be creative and incorporate that love into artistic lessons on geometry, geography, geology, genetics, etc. The key here is that children, adolescents, and adults should always pursue their curiosity. Curiosity is the spring well of learning and is really one of the key elements to what makes us human. This quote from Albert Einstein says it well, “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” Curiosity is what fuels my passion for reading non-fiction and traveling to new places. Don’t worry about test scores or intelligence; rather focus on learning for the sake of scratching the curiosity itch. Go out, encourage, love each other’s differences, stay positive, and appreciate that you are a uniquely-intelligent-wonderful human being.