Wednesday, August 31, 2016

politics, religion and idiots

I’m not an idiot.

OK, if you’ve seen me accidentally blow something up or stand on a rolling, spinning office chair to reach something high, you may disagree with that.  Heck, I’ll be the first to tell you that sometimes I do some boneheaded things with comedic results, but in all seriousness…I am not an idiot.

To the contrary, I’m actually a fairly well educated person with good common sense, excellent creative problem solving skills and an IQ test score that simply must have been a mistake.  (Lucky guesses on a lot of the questions.)  Even so, if you and I have differing opinions on any given topic, you may want to think I’m an idiot.

As a professor I spend my days with humans half my age who are just dipping their toes into the pool of adulthood for the first time.  Generally speaking, these students find themselves making their own choices about life, morals and values without the direction of their parents for the first time ever.  I’ll admit it’s entertaining to watch them become so passionate about tattoos, politics and spirituality.  They’ll be loud about it in class as well as in their personal time and with relatively no life experience at this point, they’ll even be quick to mock and ridicule the people around them with different views.  I’ve had 20 year olds who looked down on my intelligence level when they found out I had strong Christian spiritual beliefs.  They just couldn’t believe that I could be so naïve!  I smiled as they sat there so above it all knowing full well they had never been put in a situation where they had to exercise real faith in anything.  It gives me hope to know this is the beginning of their journey instead of the end.  I guess if adolescence teaches us anything it’s that the growing process is not always a pretty one.

I’m not sure if it’s modern culture or if it’s more of an American thing but many of us have lost our ability to disagree with one another and still have an intelligent discourse.

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”   -Aristotle, Metaphysics

It used to be the case that people would go to college not to get a job or find a career, but to learn how to think.  College was the place where young adults learned how to engage in the discovery of new ideas.  Students were encouraged to investigate observations and facts so that ideas and opinions could be formed.  Entertaining questions and investigating opposing concepts was an active part of education.  In a time when so many people go to college, modern society is apparently filled with very uneducated minds, at least according to Aristotle. 

I blame TV.  Everything from prime time programming to the local news is designed to evoke an emotional response from viewers.  We tune in and find ourselves being asked to take sides.  We pull for sitcom characters as they bumble through the story.  We are lured into wanting a particular contestant to win on a goofy talent show because we are shown their emotional backstory and now we don’t care if they are really the most talented performer, their story was compelling so we call and vote for them anyway.  If you think about what happens to us on this level, perhaps it’s easier to see how we are manipulated by producers and programmers.  If, on a show based on talent, we are compelled by the story to pull for a contestant who is not the most talented….maybe you can see how the news media might use the same tactics to evoke an emotional response from us regarding local or national issues?  With the right angle and the right quotes, the issue becomes less about the truth and more about the way the story is told.  And when we’re told on a more national level that we must choose sides between two less than desirable options, we may get caught up in the stories being told and forget that we have very specific, individualized values that are not represented by either available choice.  We end up joining a team that doesn’t really characterize what we believe. 

Maybe it’s not just TV.  Maybe we share the blame.

These days it seems we raise our human offspring to be mental robots.  As parents, we want our children to be obedient.  We want them to be like us.  And because we do not feel confident in our reasoning or our decision-making, we certainly do not want our kids asking us questions about how we arrived at our decisions.  That would be embarrassing, right?  If a kid simply asked why we held to a certain moral value and we couldn’t articulate it with a logical argument based in fact, we would look dumb.  We just can’t have that, so let’s not encourage questions from our kids and if they do happen to ask a good question, let’s just say “because that’s the way it is” and move on.  Because if our kids start to ask questions and think for themselves they might grow up to have different opinions than us.  And since we tend to think of different as bad, we cant let that happen.  So if our children fall in line, they mimic our values and beliefs not based on careful consideration and experiential learning, but because that’s what someone told them once. 

What kind of adult does that child become?  I think a quick glance across traffic will answer that for you.  The car in front of you will have a political endorsement sticker.  But that sticker will not just support one candidate, it will simultaneously insult another candidate.  As if to say, “only a complete idiot could support that person”.  The car beside you will have a religious sticker.  But that sticker will be carefully worded to not just support a particular faith, but to also use guilt or pressure or even political parties to back that faith.  And don’t even get me started on the college football goofballs who sit at the ready at a red light to give the finger to the person in front of them with the opposing local team sticker on their car.  You like Clemson football?  You must have a low IQ.  Because one of those things has to do with the other, right? 

Trivial things like football teams, temporary things like politics and important things like core values all come down to personal belief.  When I believe that the Cubs are my favorite baseball team, I am saying that I have chosen to support this team.  I am not saying they are the best team in baseball on any given day/year (/century as far as the Cubs are concerned).  All I am saying is that for fairly unimportant reasons that are totally unrelated to rational thought, I choose to hope this team wins.  This does not make me intelligent.  This also does not make me unintelligent.  It is a choice I have made and it reflects only a portion of who and what I am as a human.  At the same time, if you choose to hope the Yankees win, that choice does not mean you are a bad person.  It does not give me any indication of your intelligence level and it does not mean that we cant be friends.

But what if you’re one of those Republicans?  Or even a Democrat?  The same facts apply.  We should be able to have a conversation and identify aspects of our belief system that line up with a particular candidate’s platform without getting into an argument, accusing each other of being dumb or comparing people to Hitler. 

Intelligent discourse and discussion of ideas is not easy.  It requires observation and careful gathering of facts.  Think of these as the ingredients for a recipe.  A cook will gather the ingredients first, carefully measure out each one and compare the recipe to their own tastes, experience and current needs.  The cook may then follow the recipe or make adjustments for taste and or quantity.  The ingredients (or facts) must come first.  Then they can be combined according to the directions to create the meal (or opinion).  Gathering the right ingredients can be a hassle.  I know people who are quick to make substitutions for ingredients they may not have.  Some people just use off brands or lesser quality ingredients than the recipe desires.  Others will leave out things they don’t like or they’ll cut the sugar or use low fat substitutes.  When we think of gathering the facts some of us will allow technology to make us lazy.  We’re already on Facebook anyway, so why not just rely on what we see there as our factual information?  That inflammatory headline that links to an article about that terrible candidate?  Heck, I don’t even need to click on that one.  I’ll just read the headline and file it away with my “facts” about that person.  I’ll also wonder how anyone could justify voting for someone who kicks puppies like the article said.  Now you’ve used two cups of saccharine instead of two cups of sugar.  Your cookies are going to taste terrible.  Facebook, internet articles, things we hear people say, these are all substitutes for real facts.  These are all things that prevent us from having intelligent discourse with those who may have different opinions. 

Fact checking is hard.  Name calling is easy. 

It’s also very easy to just put on someone else’s beliefs and wear them as your own.  That requires much less cranial effort than investigating different ideas, researching facts through reliable sources and synthesizing that information into your own beliefs.  But you are not Fox News.  You are not CNN.  You are not the very opinionated dude on talk radio and you are NOT Kanye West.  You are a human who was raised with a very specific set of values and beliefs acted out around you as you grew through your younger years.  You are a human who then grew old enough to ask questions and began to figure some things out for yourself.  You are a human who grew into an adult who is expected to have their own set of values and beliefs based on a mixture of all that history, research and that ever-important element:  life experience.  With all that very individual history mixed up together, there’s just no way your values and beliefs line up exactly with anyone else’s.  You can’t cut and paste your beliefs.

You may also wish to consider the very real possibility that you may eventually change your mind about something.  I know it seems so unlikely when you have such passionate allegiance to your ideas right now.  But that’s what life does to us; it changes us.  Remember, at one point in human history we were certain that the sun revolved around the Earth.  We were also certain that the Earth was flat.  Heck, not so long ago some of the greatest medical minds were convinced that if you were feeling bad they just needed to cut you open and let you bleed out all the bad stuff.

From this side of these archaic ideas, they seem silly to us.  In the same way, at some point in your life you will look back at what you believed in 2016 and you’ll laugh at how naïve you were.  You’ll discover that those people you thought were idiots because of their beliefs are now your friends.  And they’ll seem a whole lot wiser then.

We’re not going to agree on everything.  Ever.  Perhaps though, we could decide to agree on this one thing:  Let’s agree to respect disagreement.  Different is not bad.  Different is not dumb.  Different is just different.  And as I told my 10 year old last week, if everyone was exactly alike this world would be a very boring place.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

two things and an offer

thing one: It's the end of summer break and it's been a wonderful summer.  I did some art thinking at the beginning of break but my brain has been in idle for a couple of months now.  I need to be able to have coherent thoughts soon.  I need to sharpen my brain for some critical thinking and teaching soon.  Conversation and discussion helps.  I'll confess that I sometimes have these conversations and discussions with myself.  Since you probably do this too, you'll understand that these self talks are best when you have time alone.  We tend to look insane when other humans see us walking around asking ourselves questions and then answering.  Since I don't want my kids thinking I'm any more insane than they may already think I am...and since G has already had discussions with me about everything I know, it might be a good idea to solicit conversations from others.  But since I'm not a fan of "people" and I love being a hermit, that can be tricky.

think two: We used to write letters.  Long, beautifully well thought out letters to communicate our thoughts.  Then computers ruined the mail and we all forgot how to even write in cursive.  Even then, we communicated by email and found a perhaps more brief way of communicating our ideas to others.  For what was lost in personal handwriting, we gained speed.  Our sprinting fingers could stamp out a long email in minutes.  Maybe this wasn't best for gathering our thoughts, but it did allow us to say a great deal in a short amount of time.  Now we have these infernal phones and we don't even email.  We text only using our thumbs to pound each letter and we hate spelling out words to the extreme of using abbreviations and even emojis to communicate our "complex" thoughts to others.  Of course, we do still email, but only when we can't text and even then we don't want to go to the trouble of opening our laptops and seeing if the battery is still charged.  Instead we email with our thumbs on that tiny screen and we don't really communicate anything other than poop emojis.  Heck, you can even scroll down through the posts here and see that I lean much more heavily on photos now than words.

an offer: I invite you to email me and initiate a conversation and or discussion.  This can help kill two birds with one stone.  You can help me restart my brain in time for school and we can both be better humans by shunning brevity and embracing actual words and paragraphs.  If there's a topic you'd like to discuss, let's have it.  If you'd like to ask me my thoughts on something, go for it.  Care to know my thoughts on something as polarizing as religion?  I'm game.  Want to discuss something boring like art theory?  Let's go.  We can talk movies, music, running or whatever.  Oh, and I give great advice!  I just ask that you tell me who you are and share your thoughts as well.  

Ready?  Go.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

st augustine! (part deux)

Last summer we ventured down I-95 into Florida to scope out St. Augustine.  We loved it there and we found it difficult to do everything we wanted to do in a week.  So this summer we decided to go back to finish what we started.  

 We pretty much made up everything on the fly.  Starting with a 30 second Google search for food near Blufton, SC.  G found "Cheeburger Cheeburger" and we took the next exit.  It was a classic style burger joint complete with Betty Boop cardboard cutout, real burgers and delicious shakes.  G had been in the car with me for 3 hours at this point, thus the fake smile.

 The shakes were really good.  The kids shared a chocolate and I had a s'mores.  So good.

 The sugar rush gave us the push we needed to get to Florida.  This was our 3rd floor balcony view for the week.

 Last summer we ate our way through town and found some favorites.  Saltwater Cowboys was one and it was first on our list of return meals.  That's a plate of real crab cakes, hushpuppies and cheese grits.  Spectacular.

 The night before we left, I picked up a set of 3 special lenses for the iPhone.  The lenses screw into a clip that just clips over your phone lens.  They're not great quality (they were $4 in the checkout aisle at Walmart) but they're super fun.  I had the most fun with the fish eye lens.

 For at least a week, G was showing me photos and videos of sea turtles hatching and racing to the ocean.  We were hoping we'd get to see that happen, but when we inspected all the marked turtle nests on our first night, we saw that the nest were all fairly new.  The next morning on my beach run I saw a brand new nest being marked off and I stepped over the mama turtle's tracks back out to sea.  That's all the sea turtle we got all week.

 The kids and I made a cool drip castle.

 After a morning on the beach we drove into the old city and visited our all time favorite restaurant, Mojo's Old City BBQ.  It totally lived up to our 364 days of craving it.  So good that we immediately agreed to eat there again before the end of vacation.  

 We walked our BBQ off and saw some cool things.  There's plenty of cool shops and lots of sweet treats in town.

 That's the family standing in the gate to the city.

 The next morning during my run I decided to go ahead and run all the way to the pier.  The pier is just over 2.5 miles from our condo.  The BBQ and seafood was heavy but I figured I needed the extra miles.  About a 1/4 mile from the pier a high school running team passed me going the opposite direction.  I went on to the pier, took a few photos and then headed back.  I'm a bit competitive when it comes to running, so even though I was feeling it, I could see some of the running team just ahead.  I sped up and eventually passed about 5 of them before getting back home.  I was feeling good about myself.

 Then I promptly blew those burned calories on french toast at Georgie's Diner.

 After breakfast we checked into the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.  The kids loved it.

 The big albino crocodile.

 A very large American Alligator.

 After we saw the whole place, we gathered with a crowd for the big feeding show in "the swamp".  We were "smart" and found a shaded spot to stand under a tree.  The trees were all filled with these big, loud birds.  The big, loud birds all had full bellies and did not seem to like the crowd gathered under their nests.  Just before the feeding show started, one of them pooped on my arm.  I looked up and he was looking at me.  I'm pretty sure he aimed.

 I was lucky it was a small amount, but I was unlucky enough to get hit again on the hand by a smaller amount a few minutes later.  I wasn't sticking around for the third time.  We quickly left the shade and headed for an air conditioned bathroom to scrub the nasty off my arm.  I got pooped on!  That was the kids' favorite part.

 I think this sign was my favorite part.

 After the gator experience we hit the beach in the afternoon and stayed out until we were hungry.

 I played around with the macro lens.

Violet caught this cool fish in her net.  She kept him in her bucket of water for a while and they bonded.  She named him "Shelly".

 Shelly posed with her for a photo before returning to his family in the sea.

 The sand was very fine and soft on the beach.  Any sort of sand sculpting was going to have to be done by carving into the already packed sand.  This meant a lot of careful digging.  But the beaches there are so wide and spacious and people were leaving to go eat so no one bothered us.

 The next day we went into the city again to goof around and eat.  
 The kids on the waterfront.

 G and Blue 

 A lookout tower on the fort.

 G and Blue on an old cannon photobombed by a tourist.

 The fort again

 While we were exploring the town, a big crowd of actors came walking down the street in costumes from St. Augustine's history.

 We asked for a photo and the conquistador put his hat on Blue.

 In town we snacked on milkshakes and waffles from Cousteau's, fries from the place formerly known as French Fry Heaven and we sort of had a meal at Scarlett O'Hara's.  We finished the day with a game of shuffleboard.

 The next day's adventure involved driving into Orlando to visit Disney Springs.  G went there on a work trip last fall when it was called Downtown Disney.  They've added all sorts of new things since then and since going to the Disney parks will cost you an arm and a leg, she thought they would like this and it still be affordable.  

 I know it almost sounds like torture to take your kids to just outside of Disney and not actually allow them to go inside.  In fact, there's a good This American Life episode about this exact thing.  But honestly, they absolutely loved every minute of it.  And there was so much to see and do, they're heads were spinning all day.

 The Lego store was the biggest hit of the day.  Blue was overwhelmed by the giant Lego sculptures.  That was the 7 Dwarfs.

 Buzz and Woody in Legos.

 They'd both saved up money for months to spend at the Lego store.  They were thrilled to be inside picking things out.

 Blue with Lego Hulk.

 A giant Tinker Toy sculpture.

 We left Disney Springs and stopped by Maggianos for dinner and the kids were still visibly thrilled about life.

 The ride back to the coast was quiet with Blue catching a nap.  But they perked up in time for some ice cream to cap off the day.

 Blue was exhausted.

 Running at the beach is always great.  The views are exceptional.  We had a good weather week.  Last year it rained at least 5 minutes every day were were in Florida.  This year it was hot, but not unbearable and it only rained once and that was late the night before we went home.  It was perfect.

 One of my old Winthrop students lived near St. Augustine for a while and last year she gave us some great food recommendations.  She sent us to Metro Diner for dinner and it was very, very good.  This year G wanted to go again so we tried it for breakfast.  Equally as good.

 We all needed the morning to recover from the Orlando trip so after a nap we took over the beach for the afternoon.  We skim boarded for a while and carved a giant Kabuki face in the sand.  

 The afternoon breeze was really comfortable and the beach cleared out completely as everyone took off for dinner.

 Just before dark, we took our sandy, sweaty, stinky bodies to try the Sunset Grille.  Then we did some nightswimming in the pool before bed.

 Then we were down to our last full beach day.  We were missing our dogs and kinda wanting to shower in our own shower and sleep in our own beds.  But we also didn't want to leave the beach and we didn't want vacation to be over.  The sweet dualities of life.

 So we stayed on the beach as long as we could.  We skimboarded, boogieboarded, splashed and buried kids in the sand.

 And then as promised, we went back to Mojo's for another great meal.

 That's the super-old cemetery across the street from Mojo's.

 The last night walk on the beach.

 More fun with the fish eye lens.


 Also lifeguards

 This is a cool photo G took of Blue skimboarding.  She took it with the Kindle and we have no idea how it did this.  Very cool.

 The last day I got out a few minutes early for my run to see the sun rise as I ran.

 The thing about a sunrise is that it happens so fast.  Its easy to forget the sun is always moving in our sky and it's only when we have a reference point like the horizon that we notice that it never stops or slows down.  There's something in there about time and how we spend it.  Something about making the most of it.  "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may..."

 The coolest thing about the place we stayed was the flamingo mural.  Classy.

 But the adventure was not over yet.  On our way home we stopped off in Savannah.  Blue was an infant the last time he was there and Violet had never been.  

 We were just there for lunch so there wasn't a lot of time for history lessons but maybe when they learn about things in school they'll have a visual reference.

 The cargo ship made a lasting impression, though.  We watched a tug boat go by the waterfront and a few minutes later this giant ship crept by us.  They were convinced it was going to hit the bridge.

 We waited until it cleared the Hwy 17 bridge before heading to eat.

 After lunch we made the last leg of our trip home where we were greeted by three very happy dogs.  

Side notes: 
On the drive down I-95 an 18 wheeler blew out a tire beside us.  It was loud and scary.  We slowed down and he did not.  This led to about a mile of driving behind the truck as it shredded it's back tire into hundreds of black chunks and threw them at our car about about 70 miles an hour.  

Ants.  We had them.  They greeted us on the kitchen counter when we arrived for a relaxing vacation.  As irritating as they were, they were not allowed to ruin our fun.  We sprayed them daily and we turned the dining room table into the kitchen counter for the week.  You can't control the things that happen, but you can control your reaction to them.  

Skimboarding is hard.  For years we've laughed at the kids attempting it and busting their butts on the hard sand.  Last year there was one stashed in a closet and we decided to try it. Slapstick comedy ensued.  We were sore and covered in bruises after just a few minutes.  This year we bought one and got some more practice in.  We got better, but we were still hilarious.  Blue is still sore and I'm lucky to be walking.