Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Picture's Worth 1000 Memories...Plus Interest

I hear the complaint all the time…”Kids these days…” and you know that when someone starts off a sentence with “kids these days” that they’re an old person. “Kids these days and their cell phones, and their cell phone cameras…they’re so busy taking pictures and documenting things that they don’t ever get to enjoy the moment.”

I’m not so sure about this. And actually, I’m willing to bet that this is a complaint that has been voiced every since George Eastman made photography accessible to the masses. I can see it now, “Young people these days and their Brownie cameras…they’re so busy taking pictures and documenting things…” well, you get the point.

The big difference between then and now is that the price of taking pictures has gone down. I remember having to buy the film, and then pay for the processing of the film. When you only had 36 possible shots you could use, and you had to pay for each shot, you were pretty stingy with what you took pictures of. Sometimes you missed good shots because you were afraid you wouldn’t have any film left for later on. Other times you missed good shots because you’d already used up your film.

With a digital camera and enough memory, the saying is that “pixels are free.” A bad shot doesn’t cost you any money, and the chances of running out of space on your SD card (if you properly manage it) are very small. Plus, you can delete the many bad shots you took, to make room for more later on.

And not only are pixels free, but so is sharing those photos. Unless you have to have prints made to send to your grandmother, it doesn’t cost anything to share your best shots on Facebook, Instagram, or through email.

So with digital photography, be it through your cell phone or a decent digital camera, making photography so much cheaper, people get to document moments that I wish I’d been able to 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

The old saying is that a picture’s worth 1000 words. I look at it differently…I say a picture’s worth 1000 memories. Memories that help us revisit important moments from our past. Memories that help us share these moments with others, especially our children and grandchildren. I look at the few pictures I was able to take on the many choir tours I went on as an undergrad, and I wish I had been able to take more. There were so many great memories…and they become more important, they accrue more interest, as I get farther and farther from the actual events. I think of the few pictures I took of my friends, (because who carried a camera around with them all the time back then?), and wish that I had been able to take more…especially of those who are no longer with us.

And when I think of the many pictures from my teenaged years that I don’t have, I wish that someone had done a little more documenting, so I’d have something to show my kids from when I was their age.

So are “kids these days” no longer capable of “living in the moment” because they’re too busy documenting things with their cameras? I don’t think so. I think that taking the pictures is an important part of that moment. It helps to give them a tangible memory for years later, and a story to tell their children and grandchildren, or nieces and nephews.

Do some people overdo it? Of course. There are always people who overdo everything. But I see nothing wrong with taking pictures of the moment to look back on when you’re old and gray.

Especially since I’m old and gray now. And I’m taking pictures to look back on when I’m older and gray.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Is Race a Thing?

In recent years I’ve heard people say things like “there’s no such thing as race” or “race is merely a social construct”, and I want to tell these well-meaning people that they need to take a laxative, because they’re full of it. Race most definitely is a thing, and it’s more than just a social construct, and that’s because the way that most of us use those terms is different from the ways that those people are using it. It’s sort of like the difference between the scientific meaning of the word “theory” and its common everyday English meaning; a difference which has led to people saying things like “But evolution is just a theory”, when evolution is not just a hypothesis. But that’s another discussion for another time.

Is there such a thing as race? Yes, just as clearly as I can see it on your face, and yours, and yours. And just as clearly as you can see it on my face, and hers, and his, and the faces of  those people over there. Race is a thing. There are certain gene pools of people with similar appearances. On a minor scale, we probably call those ethnicities. Many people can tell a Brit from a Pole from an Italian, from a Dane. Many people can tell a Korean from a Vietnamese from a Japanese from a Chinese. On a major scale we have what we common people call race…the obvious difference between any Scandinavian and any Asian. The obvious difference between any Native American and any African. And so on. This is what most of us think of when we think of race.

So what isn’t there that isn’t race? Or to try to put it more simply, what is it that those who say that there is no such thing as race say doesn’t exist? The idea of each race as a separate species, or subspecies, or to use a term from the canine world…breed. We’re not as different as a Labrador is from a beagle is from a poodle is from a Chihuahua. Or…maybe I don’t know enough about dogs, and they’re more similar to each other than we are.

And what about the idea that race is merely a social construct? I’ll grant you that it is, but what the people who say this seem to be implying is that race is merely a western social construct, and by definition, that makes it suspect at the least, and most likely dead wrong. But you know something…I’m willing to bet you that when the Native Americans saw the first Vikings get off that boat in Newfoundland, they said something that translated to “Who are those white people?” And I’m betting that people in Japan said the same thing when they first encountered Europeans.

Is race a social construct? Of course it is! It describes people from here who really obviously don’t look like people from there.

Now, it’s been argued that race doesn’t exist because if you walk north to south from the very tip of Scandinavia to the bottom of Africa, or west to east from Ireland to Japan, the differences you see every day will be so slight that you don’t really notice them until about midway in your journey. I could use the same argument to say that color doesn’t exist and is merely a social construct, because if you start at one position on the spectrum and slowly move to the end, the differences will be so small that you don’t really notice them until about midway through. In fact, color is a social construct, because there are some languages that have no word for purple…it’s just another shade of blue.

But continuing on with the color theme, we can all pretty much agree on the difference between red and yellow, or yellow and blue; but what about orange? At what point does red become orange? At what point does orange become yellow? And how about green? At what point does yellow become green and green become blue?

The simple fact of the matter is that for practical purposes race exists just as surely as colors exist. Just as there are different large color groups in that box of Crayolas, there are different large racial groups in this world of people.

It just is, and denying that it is isn’t going to make it go away. We will always need some way to describe the people whose ancestors came from here (wherever “here” is) as opposed to those whose ancestors came from there, there, or there. Now…what you do with that information is another issue entirely.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

They Also Serve...

Before I say what I want to say, I want to let you know that I wouldn’t be saying this were it not for the kind words of a good friend of over 25 years...that I’ve never met. She said things about me that I couldn’t say about myself, and inspired me to write this piece for others like me.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how my wife went on a one-week mission trip to Haiti. During the week she was gone, there was a bit of a public blow up about how I hadn’t been given an itinerary for the trip. I was sending my wife off for a week to a third world country, and I didn’t get the same information I would’ve given her if I was going off on a week-long business trip in the next state.

It got ugly very fast, and it created a situation that was impossible for me to explain my way out of or make better, as people accused me of selfishly not wanting to share my wife with the rest of the world.

And into this shitstorm came my friend Kathy with words that soothed me. I don’t know if they had any effect on the people who were attacking me, but they definitely did me a world of good. She talked about how Cheryl had gone to serve while I was left to suffer in a silence that wasn’t necessarily of Cheryl’s creation. She also spoke of how I tried to serve in my own way, but was denied that opportunity because of everything that had happened.

As I said, I found those words soothing, and I quickly sent her a private message explaining that this trip wasn’t something that Cheryl had just decided to go on of her own. When the people who organized it gave a presentation at our church, Cheryl turned to me and said, “That sounds interesting”, and without missing a beat, I said, “See ya!” She had no expectation of being able to go on that trip, she didn’t ask about going on it; she just mentioned in passing that it sounded interesting, and I told her to start packing her bags. I encouraged her to go, it was my gift to her; and now all these people were piling on me for selfishly not wanting to share her with the rest of the world.

It was then that my friend said words that I found even more soothing. Words that made perfect sense when I thought about them, but that I couldn’t have said about myself. Someone else had to say them about me. I’m going to paraphrase them here for the sake of others who find themselves in the same position.

She said that so often we look at service only in the direct way. We only look at the person who actually got on the plane and went to Haiti as doing service. But, she said, Cheryl’s service to Haiti wouldn’t have been possible without my service to her. We each did service in our own way, and no one was acknowledging my service because it wasn’t the obvious, front line, on the ground type. And yet, as she said, Cheryl wouldn’t have been in the front line, on the ground without my service to her. We both did service for the people of Haiti, just in different ways.

But I don’t want this to be just about me. I don’t want this to appear to be Keith whining and saying “Look at me! I contributed too!” OK…well maybe I do want just a little acknowledgment of my contribution, and for people to back off already. But what I really want is for you to think of all the people back home who made it possible for someone else to go do something like this. I want you to not forget that they did indirect service by making it possible for their loved ones to do direct service. And their contributions should neither be demeaned nor ignored.

As for me…I’m looking forward to doing indirect service again in two years, should Cheryl decide that she wants to go back.

Because I hear they thought she did a really great job.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Aging Gracefully with Viagra

I’ve long been an advocate of aging gracefully, and not continually trying to pretend that you’re younger than you actually are. Toupees and expensive replacement procedures for hair loss, coloring your gray hair, tummy tucks, and other similar things were just vain and futile attempts to continue to look young, rather than gracefully accepting the fact that you were older.

And so, when Viagra first went on the market almost 20 years ago, I thought, “Here we go again.” I thought it was about 60-something men not wanting to admit that they were no longer 20-something. I figured that things naturally tapered off with time, and so what if you couldn’t do it three times in one night anymore? Can you do it three times in a week? Can you do it once a week? Can you remember a time when you weren’t getting any at all?

With that in mind, Viagra seemed like a “vanity drug” to me. It was marketed to the vanity of people who just couldn’t bring themselves to accept the fact that things change with time.

And then I thought about my knees.

A lot of us start having knee problems as we get older, and a lot of us get knee replacements. Hip replacements too. I heard once that based on newer technologies, what was once the $6 Million Man is probably now the $12,000 Man.

But I have no problem with joint replacements. I don’t tell those people to just suck it up because it’s a part of aging. I don’t tell people with cataracts that the surgery to fix them is “vanity surgery.” I encourage them to get it, and tell them that from everything I’ve heard, it’s absolutely life-changing.

And then there are those hair issues. It took an episode of the TV show LA Law to teach me that hair color and hair replacement isn’t always an issue of vainly trying to pretend that you’re younger. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a style that you prefer. And what’s wrong with that?

But this got me thinking about Viagra again. If I wouldn’t tell my friends with failing joints and eyes that they should just suck it up because it’s a normal part of aging, why should I tell my friends with erectile problems that Viagra was a “vanity drug”, and they should just accept decreased performance as a simple fact of life.

And then there was something else that just blew me away. I read somewhere that it turns out that I was wrong about why men of a certain age were using the stuff. It wasn’t 60-something men who wanted to pretend that they were 20-something and do it three times a night. It was the partners of those men, who wanted them to be able to perform like they were 40-something again two or three times a week.

Not a vanity drug at all, but something you did for your partner. Wow.

Then, as I did a little more reading, I discovered something that hit extremely close to home. It’s also used by diabetics…did you hear that, diabetics, who have diabetic neuropathy that prevents the plumbing from working properly. Well, I guess this means that one of these days I’ll be looking at the little blue pills too…along with the cataract surgery I know is in my future.

But I’m not coloring my hair or getting a toupee.

I intend to age gracefully.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Feeling Good About Doing Good

My wife just came back from a weeklong mission trip to Haiti…and had the time of her life! She did great things for the people there. She did great things with the people there. She bonded with the people she went down there with. She said it was a really rewarding experience and would love to go back.

And this is a problem for some people.

I have a friend who is all about motives. Actually, she’s all about pure motives. Unless you’ve done something for only the purest of motives, what you’ve done is morally suspect. If you’ve gotten anything out of it…anything…then you’re only doing it for yourself, and not for the people you thought you were helping.

Obviously, she’d have a problem with Cheryl going back to Haiti because she enjoyed the experience. That makes Cheryl a person who’s selfishly using the people of Haiti to make herself feel good. Now, if Cheryl hated every moment of the time she was in Haiti, but vowed to go back on a regular basis because it was the right thing to do, that would truly be doing good from the purest of motives.

I disagree with that view. I fundamentally disagree with that view, and I disagree with it because of something called a feedback loop. I’m not talking about what happens when the microphone is too close to the speakers, although they are related. The kind of feedback loop I’m talking about is when you learn to do or not to do something based on some response you got from doing it.

Good feedback encourages you to continue certain behaviors and bad feedback discourages you from them.

When you feel good about doing good, it encourages you to do more good. The feeling you get from that encourages you to do still more good. And the feeling you get from that encourages you to do even more good than before. I suspect this is nature’s way of nudging us into doing good and helping each other. We’re supposed to feel good when we do good for others!

I remember one of the most important things I learned in my freshman Philosophy class at Syracuse University was the concept of enlightened self-interest. That’s when you look out for others because it also benefits you. Yes, you’re getting something out of it, but so is the other person. It’s a win-win all around.

But some people have a problem with this, and want the most philosophically pure motives before doing anything.

The problem with this is that if you wait for the absolute purest of motives, nothing will ever get done.

Besides, I think that my friend has a serious issue that she hasn’t considered. In insisting that things be done only for the purest of motives, she wants to be able to say that when she does some good deed, she does it for the right reason.

I don’t think she’s stopped to consider that she’s selfishly using others to get moral bragging rights.

Let me be perfectly clear here...this was no one week vacation where they did a little work. There was heat and diarrhea, and bad water and diarrhea, and lots of hard work and diarrhea, and great bonding with the rest of the mission trip team...and diarrhea.

And did I mention diarrhea?

But they'd all go back in a minute because of what they got out of it...because of the feedback loop making them feel good for doing good.

And that, despite what my friend thinks, is how it should be.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sex, Gender, Language, and Wiring

I’ll admit that I’m still having problems transitioning to the new uses of the terms “sex” and “gender”, and here’s why:

I remember when “gender” was the term that “polite people” used to avoid using the word “sex”, as if “sex” was only something you had, and not also something you were.

I remember using the term “sex” with my 6th-graders, and having them all go beet red, and begging me to use the word “gender” instead, because “sex” was too embarrassing and giggle-inducing for them to handle. I also recall making that same group of 6th-graders say the word “sex” loudly three times to get it out of their system. There was not going to be any faux politeness on my watch.

I also remember explaining to that same class how to me “gender” was a term that referred to language and wiring. German, French, and Spanish were languages with gender, and English is not. In German all dogs are male, all cats are female, and all horses are neuter. In English they’re all indeterminate unless you know the particular animal in question.

As far as wiring goes, most of what I know about electricity, I learned from doing model trains as a kid, and then later sound systems as a young adult. This is where I first learned about the two genders of connectors: male and female. It was years before I figured out why they were called that, and then my jaw dropped when I did. And then there were those situations when you had to go from a male to a male or a female to a female, and had to run to Radio Shack for a “gender bender.” (That’s what it was really called, folks!)

Gender wasn’t an internal descriptor until very recently. Until then it had been a physical/biological one that was pretty much synonymous with sex; and actually, as I recall hearing at a recent presentation about supporting library patrons and staff who are transgender, you can solve a lot of problems by remembering the word “usually”...as in “sex and gender are usually the same...but not always.”

So now, as I start using those two words in different ways than they've been used for years, I wonder how I talk about language and wiring. Do German, French, and Spanish now have sex? (And how often do they have it?) And what about my electrical and audio cables; do they now also have sex, because it’s a physical description of the connector, rather than a description of what flows through them? And when I need to go from male to male or female to female, do I now need a “sex switcher” rather than the old “gender bender”?

And if I try to resist such changes, on the grounds that in those cases sex and gender are always the same, will I be told that such resistance is futile?