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?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Death and Not Having a Script: Part 2

Last week I talked about dealing with death and not having a script to follow…especially when you’re younger and the people who’ve died are your own age. But as we get older the people our own age are also…well…older. Also, as we get older, the people we hang around with from work or other places may be older…or even younger…than us, but they’re somehow our contemporaries. You’d think that by now we’d know the script, but sometimes when it’s not there for us, things fall apart.

I’ve used the word “script” up to now, but other appropriate words are “ritual” or “custom.” Those rituals and customs help to guide us through difficult times, and help us to know what to do. And…as I said when I was talking about scripts, when that ritual isn’t there, when any ritual isn’t there, things can get uncomfortable pretty fast, because you don’t know your role, and you’re afraid of getting it wrong.

In my 19 years of teaching, it’s been my sad lot to deal with the deaths of the parents of at least five students. Where there was a ritual involved, things went smoothly and beautifully. I’ll never forget the funeral for the father of one student, who we all knew was dying. It seemed like every faculty member was at the church for that funeral, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. Because there was that ritual, and we all got to deal with the family within the guidelines of that ritual, there was no awkwardness with knowing what to say to the student in the days afterward. He wasn’t bombarded with every faculty member and student offering their condolences for the next two weeks, nor did he have to deal with the uncomfortable silence of people not wanting to talk about the elephant in the room.

I also remember my first Jewish funeral. This was a ritual that was outside of my tradition…but once again, this ritual gave us a framework for dealing with the remaining family members, and not having the kids bombarded day after day with condolences.

But then there were those deaths for which there was no ritual, no funeral…or at least none that I was aware of at the time, and one of these situations is where my biggest failing regarding death was. I don’t recall the details anymore, but the father of a student had died; and this father had taken an interest in my family. I don’t recall if there was a funeral that I didn’t hear about, I don’t recall whether or not I said anything to his son, but I do remember running into his widow at a graduation party for someone else, and not having a script, not having had the ritual of having already seen her and offering my condolences at the funeral, I pretty much avoided her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. And I had heard so much about the totally wrong things people say.

I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, and so I said nothing. And that, I’ve been finding out, is perhaps the most hurtful thing you can do. And years later, I still regret that.

So I’m here to give you the script for when there is no script, the ritual for when there’s been no ritual. I’m here to tell you what no one has probably told you.

Say something. No one expects you to try to make it better. They know that you can’t. But just let them know that you’re thinking of them. Don’t ramble on and on, but just say something. As uncomfortable as it may be to you to do it outside of the confines of an established tradition or ritual, it’s hurtful to them for you to not do it at all.

And here’s the little surprise I learned by listening to, of all things, an episode of the Freakonomics podcast…despite what you may think, sometimes the bereaved want to talk about the deceased, and enjoy talking about the good times. So our worrying about upsetting them by bringing them up is unwarranted. In fact, bringing them up reminds them that for one bright shining moment, that person existed among us.

So take that chance. It’s part of the script now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Death and Not Having a Script: Part 1

When I was younger, like in my 20s, I had been to more weddings than funerals; and the funerals I had been to were mostly for “old people.” That’s pretty much the way it should be. Grandparents and old extended relatives die, and there’s sort of a “script” for that. You don’t really know it yourself, but you follow the script that all the older family members around you seem to know and be following. You also follow the script that your particular culture or religion provides for dealing with death.

But what happens when someone your own [young] age dies, and you don’t know the script because no one has taught it to you?

My first experience with the death of someone my own age was when I was around 12 or 13, and found out that a friend of mine from choir, who had moved away, had died in a boating accident. When the rector (the Episcopalian word for “priest”) told us that as we were getting ready for the service on Sunday morning, I was shocked and saddened, and didn’t know what else to do with my feelings. So I just didn’t mention it to anyone. Ever. When we got home, however, my younger sister shattered my silent dealing with it by announcing to our parents, in the way that only a 10 or 11-year-old can, “Guess who died!”

There was no script to deal with this because his death had occurred in another state, and there was no funeral to go to. In fact, this is the first time I’ve mentioned it to anyone since then.

My next experience came some eight years later, when someone I was working with in a summer program at the university was killed in a bike riding accident. I came back from a weekend home, and was greeted with, “Have you heard about Jon?” Mercifully, there was sort of a script for this. The university and the grownups around us provided us with one, but the rest of the summer was a bit somber.

Just barely a year later, I had to deal with it again, when another friend from another choir was killed in a car accident. Once again, the university and the grownups around us provided a script of sorts for us, but this time it was a little messy for me. You see, he had lent me a bunch of his Beach Boys records, and I had no idea what to do with them. I didn’t know who to contact. I didn’t know if I should contact anyone. Did they want to talk about him? Did they want to deal with getting his records back? There was absolutely no script for this. I ended up holding onto those records for a few years before trading them in at the used record store.

Mercifully, that was the last death of someone my age that I had to deal with for a long time. After that, it was all grandparents and other older relatives…people there was some sort of cultural script for. It was a good 17 years later, and I was in my late 30s, when someone from choir at church died unexpectedly (I know…you’re wondering what is it with me and people from choirs). Of course, there was a script for this, because it was someone from church. And because there was a script, I knew what to do.

But a very important thing remains…most of us never get taught the script. We fumble through learning it piecemeal, and don’t know how we should handle deaths of people our own, relatively young, age when they’re thrust upon us. And so we handle them awkwardly…if at all.

Because I had no script for the situation I found myself in with my friend’s Beach Boy’s records, I sort of just avoided the whole issue. Of course now, some 40 years later, I know that there were people I could’ve asked about it. But at 21, as mature as you think you are, you’re still overwhelmed by a lot of learning of new social skills that you never had to deal with before, and you misstep…a lot.

More on this next week.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Programmer's Explanation of Our Presidential Election System

Since this keeps coming up, and the fact that people seem to almost willfully be misunderstanding it keeps making me crazy, this former computer programming teacher is going to try to explain our presidential election system in terms of computer programming.

Now, before I go any further, I need to say three important little words to all the people out there who keep arguing that Trump didn’t really win because Hillary got the popular vote:

It doesn’t matter!

Really. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the way the system works. That’s not the way the system was designed. THE POPULAR VOTE DOESN’T MEAN SQUAT.

At least not on a national level it doesn’t.

Now let the old programmer explain.

In the programming world we have main programs and subroutines. The main program runs by itself, but can have subroutines inside of it. A subroutine can’t run by itself, and is always part of another program or subroutine. Let me give you a moment to assimilate that. Basically, programs are made up of subroutines.

Now we need to talk about variables. There are two types of variable in programming: global and local. Global variables exist for the main program. Local variables only exist within a particular subroutine. And now I’m gonna add one more type of variable: results. Results are sent from the subroutine to the main program (or the subroutine that used it). OK, take a deep breath and we’ll go on.

The result of a subroutine comes from working on the local variables that the main program never sees. Ever. The user might see the local variables if the programmer had them show up on the screen during the calculations, as a way of checking the math, but they’re going to the screen and not to the main program. They help create the result, but they are not the results themselves.

OK…our presidential election system is the main program and it counts the number of electoral votes each candidate has in order to determine the winner. There’s a global variable for each candidate, we’ll call them candidate1, candidate2, and candidate3. There’s also a subroutine that does the counting for each state, we’ll call that State. State has three local variables called candidate1, candidate2, and candidate3. This is really bad form in programming. You try not to give your local variables the same names as your globals, because people might get confused…especially since these variables don’t talk to each other. Better the local variables should’ve been called something like candidatea, candidateb, and candidatec, but it’s too late now.

As State runs on each state and territory in the country, it uses the local variables candidate1, candidate2, and candidate3 to figure out who won all of that state’s electoral votes. It doesn’t matter if candidate1 won by 1 vote or 100,000; if that candidate won, then the subroutine sends out the appropriate number of electoral votes to that candidate to the main program as the result.

But what of those popular votes in each state? Because they’re local variables, they don’t matter. At least not for the main program. They only exist to figure out the result for each state, and to check the results in each state. They never get passed out to the main program.

The problem arises when people look at the results for the local variables as if they meant anything to the main program…and they don’t. Even if the program is written so that you can see the local results onscreen in order to check the accuracy of the results for each state, those local figures still aren’t being sent out as results.


Now, most of the time the popular numbers and the electoral numbers will pretty closely resemble each other, but there have been a number of times in our history when they haven’t. And when they haven’t, people got all up in arms because they misunderstood the system, and were looking at the local variables instead of the global results.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t still be upset that Trump won the election. But it does mean that a lot you need to stop going on and on about how Hillary won the popular vote.

Because the popular vote never was the point in the first place.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Laws of Attraction

Coincidences are funny things. A few weeks ago, when I told a 50-something friend of mine that she was “eye candy”, she laughed and said that I definitely needed to get new glasses. A few hours later, a 20-something friend of mine posted on Facebook how it felt like a punch in the stomach when some of her “more conventionally attractive” friends posted about how unattractive they felt, and acted surprised when all the reassurances came in.


I responded that I’m always surprised at the people who I think are attractive, but don’t think they are themselves; and suggested that maybe they’re not being disingenuous about it.

Let’s talk about my first friend. It’s true that she’s no hot 26-year-old, and maybe she feels that she was more attractive 30 years and 30 pounds ago; but I didn’t know her then. All I’ve known is the 50-something pudgy version of her, and this 60-something could look at that 50-something all day long.

Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate an attractive 26-year-old just as well as I could when I was 26 myself. However, now that I’m in my 60s, I can appreciate a slightly pudgy 50 or 60-something in ways that I couldn’t have imagined when I was 26.

And then there’s me. When I look in the mirror, I see my grandfather, who was 63 when I was born, and he lived to be 86. I look in the mirror and I see an old man who’s not as skinny as he used to be. So it came as quite the surprise one day when a very attractive woman in her early 40s came up to me at the library and said that I was more attractive in person than I was on my posters.

Really? Me? Now? As with my first friend, I can see it 30 years and 30 pounds ago. When I was in my 30s, I might have feigned surprise to hear someone say that, because I knew I was halfway decent looking. But this old guy? Are you kidding me? Now that’s a real surprise.

And I wasn’t being disingenuous about it. I just didn’t see it.

Or rather, I was focused on what I thought I had to look like in order to be attractive to people, and not what other people were actually thinking. And what many of us think we have to look like to be attractive to others is young. Young and thin. Or buff…or shapely.

Even though I obviously didn't think that way about others. Which brings me to an important point: we often judge ourselves by harsher standards than we judge others, or than others judge us.

The laws of attraction are very funny things; and they change as we get older. I’d like to think that they change to represent more of what people in our age group look like. But even when we’re young, our standards of beauty are different from person to person.

I’ve seen people who I understood by current standards were strikingly beautiful, and gone “Meh.” I mean, I can see it, I can understand it, but they just don’t do anything for me. On the other hand, there are people that I might once have rated a 4/10, who by the simple force of their personalities, became attractive to me, and have me checking them out every time I see them. As I said to my wife about one friend of ours, “I don’t check out Sally because she’s necessarily hot. I check out Sally because she’s Sally.”

But what are the laws of attraction? This geek would love to know. He would love to know what makes Person A attractive to Person B, but not to Person C.

And what makes my second friend attractive to unknown people who just haven’t spoken up yet.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Anna Jarvis Still Isn't Happy

I first posted this four years ago, but as Mother’s Day approaches again, I think it's time for it to get another airing. So here you go. Enjoy!


Wait! Put down that box of candy. Forget about ordering those flowers. And whatever you do, don’t put that card in the mail! Anna Jarvis would not be happy.

What on earth am I talking about, and who the heck is Anna Jarvis?

For those of you who didn’t know Anna Jarvis is the woman who created our modern celebration of Mother’s Day. She also ended up hating what her creation had turned into, and spent the rest of her life trying to kill the “monster” she had created.

But let me back up a little bit.

She had intended Mother’s Day to be both a memorial to her own mother, who had died in 1905, and a day like many of the other observances that came out of the Sunday School movement of the time; things like Roll Call Day, Temperance Sunday, and Missionary Sunday, which have long been forgotten. As such, it was her intent that since it was on a Sunday, it would be a “holy day, not a holiday,” and a day on which people would write heartfelt letters to their mothers, telling how important they were to them.

However, within 10 years of Woodrow Wilson’s 1914 proclamation of the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, Jarvis was soured by what she considered to be the commercialization of her “holy day,” and actively campaigned against it. She had meant for it to be “a day of sentiment, not profit,” and was angered by the huge profits that the candy, flower, and greeting card industries were making off of her mother’s day.

She was incensed that it had become that most loathsome of all things…the dreaded “Hallmark Holiday,” a term which is horribly misused, because Hallmark didn’t create those holidays, they simply made a mint recognizing that many people would like cards to send out on them.

And that’s what pissed her off…the fact that people sent their mothers printed greeting cards rather than a heartfelt, handwritten letter. Or to quote her:
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
Now, I’m quite certain that if I wrote my mother the kind of letter that Anna Jarvis wanted me to, she’d be on the phone immediately, asking how many days I had left to live. I also know that if I wrote the kind of letter that Jarvis wanted us all to write, I’d have to double my insulin dosage for the day. My family is just not that overtly sentimental.

And that’s OK. For you see, the other thing that Anna Jarvis didn’t get is that for many families the candy, the flowers, and the dreaded greeting card, are symbols of what she wanted people to say outright. They are symbols of what is already understood within the families that use them, and that might even mean more than the handwritten note she insisted upon.

I can only imagine Anna Jarvis’s reaction to the grandmother of a friend of mine who would’ve seen the handwritten note as a sign that you were too lazy to go to the store and pick out a nice Hallmark card for her. She'd say "Write the note if you want…but make sure it’s in a proper card!"

Ironically, one of the reasons that Anna Jarvis didn’t get it was because she was never a mother herself. To her, Mother’s Day was always about her own mother, and was never something she got to experience from the other side, where she might have gained a different perspective.

She didn’t understand that once she’d let the genie out of the bottle, people would observe Mother’s Day any way they wanted to, whether it was the way she had in mind or not. And so she spent the rest of her life trying to stuff that all too independent genie back. She was so set on having Mother’s Day observed the way that she had intended, that she never paid attention to the joy millions of women got from the way that it actually was being observed.

And so if your mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, wife, whatever, enjoys the candy, the cards, and the flowers, I say run out and get them right now. Thank Anna for the idea, but then tell her that she's being a bit too much of a control freak.

For more information, you might want to check out these links:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Enough Pain to Go Around

Many years ago I dated a girl who made a big deal about selfishness. Well…let me rephrase that…she made a big deal about my selfishness. And my selfishness was defined as any time that I didn’t want to do what she wanted to do, or didn’t want to do things the way that she wanted to do it. Any time I tried to get my way once in a while, I could count on being accused of being selfish.

Funny thing is that I knew that if anything, she was the one being selfish by demanding her way all the time. But I also knew that pointing out her selfishness would just be proof to her of mine.

I was aware that I often wanted my own way. I was aware that we all often want our own way…her included. I was also aware that as a result of that, there needed to be a little give and take…some compromises…to reach a point where one side wasn’t getting all while the other was getting none. I knew that there was enough desire for our own way on both sides of this relationship to go around…and that it wasn’t right that she was the one getting all while I was the one getting none.

But “compromise” isn’t in your vocabulary when you feel that you have the moral high ground…which may only be a mound that you’ve made out dirt dug out from the other person’s yard.

There’s something to be said for being an outsider, a third party with no vested interest in the situation, and who can look at it clearly and dispassionately. A third person could clearly have called her on her own selfishness, and she’d have to accept it without lashing out at them. Similarly, had I seen the same situation playing out in someone else’s relationship, I would’ve given the advice that I couldn’t give myself.

However, I’m not here to talk about that relationship today. I want to talk about pain. Not the physical kind…the emotional kind.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posted an article titled Six Signs That You Might Not Really Respect Your Transgender Loved One. As I read the article, I was reminded of a transgender person I heard speak a few months earlier about dealing with her family, and how evil they were because they didn’t recognize or acknowledge the pain she was going through.

In both cases I was able to see things much differently because I was the disinterested third party. The two transgender people here were only able to see things from their perspective. They were only able to recognize and acknowledge their own pain and suffering. They couldn’t…or wouldn’t…see what their families were going through.

And I call “bullshit” on that.

When their family members explain that this is hard on them too, when they try to cling to a few reminders of what they thought we happy family moments from the past, and the transgender person responds by saying that this is just another sign of how little they really care about them, this is just like my old girlfriend claiming that any time I tried to point out when she was being selfish was just further proof of how selfish I was.

These people are saying “My pain is the only real pain, the only valid pain, the only pain that matters. they may have pain too, but it’s not mine, so it doesn’t matter, and can be belittled and discounted. when your pain conflicts with my pain, you just need to suck it up and let me have my way because my pain’s more important.

The simple fact of the matter is that no one gets to have all their way all the time. No one gets a pain-free life. We all have to deal with a little pain for the sake of someone else…especially when both sides are hurting. We all have to give a little.

That includes both transgender people and their families.

And my former girlfriend.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thank You for the Music

Here are a few thoughts for all those people who say that depending on streaming from Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music is so much better than actually owning the music and having it take up valuable space on your hard drive and/or mobile device...

I'm old. I remember having a stereo system with lots of components. First it was the receiver and turntable. Then the cassette deck. Then the double cassette deck. Then the CD player. Then the five-CD player. That's a lot of equipment to have in your living room all wired together.

I also remember records...over 1000 45s and 300 albums also taking up space in my living room. I remember the cassette mixtapes I made from them. And then there were the CDs.

Oh yes, and I remember buying records...and the fact that for the 79¢ you paid for a 45, you got one song you wanted and one song you probably didn’t. That meant about 40¢ a song...in 1966 money. I’ll let you calculate the adjustment to 2017 dollars.

And as much as I tried (and I tried really hard), I could never come up with a good, easy to use, cataloging and filing system for all those records. And even when I did, there was no guarantee that I’d put the records right back where they belonged when I was done playing them.

Between the equipment and the media, I was begging for someone to invent something that would allow me to put all the music I owned into one small place so I could get my living room back.

And in 2001 it happened, with the introduction of the iPod. “1000 songs in your pocket” they said. That was pretty much the equivalent of the “A side” of all the singles I owned. But soon the capacity went up to more and more and more. My 64gb iPod Touch could theoretically hold 15,000 songs.

Better yet, though, came the ability to store even more music on the hard drive of my computer...provided I had a large enough hard drive. I didn’t have to keep all the music on my iPod, just my favorites. It took a while for me to replace all my vinyl with digital versions, and yes, in many cases it meant buying again; but I got my living room back, and my stereo now consisted of an iPod and a portable set of speakers.

But my point, my real point, is that all you people who complain about how much disk space it takes and how much it costs to buy music as opposed to renting it through streaming is this: It’s still less physical space, even if I buy an extra external hard drive for it, to own all that music digitally than to have all that vinyl sitting around the house...uncataloged and unorganized. And it’s still cheaper, at $1.29 per song that I want in 2017 money than it was for a double-sided single at 79¢ in 1966.

So from my aged perspective, that hard drive full of music that I’ve paid for is a vast improvement over that living room full of equipment, records, cassettes, and CDs.

And...I’ll always have the music because I own it. The day won’t come when some record label or artist decides that they don’t want me to be able to play it anymore...as they might with Spotify or Pandora.

Now don’t get me wrong…there are some great things about those streaming services. In an era when radio is increasingly specialized and you can no longer find a station that plays a little of everything, I use Pandora for discovery by creating a bunch of stations with different genres, and then shuffling them so that a song by Ingrid Michaelson could be followed by one by Ray Charles, Bert Kaempfert, the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Kathy Mattea or some artist I haven’t heard of yet.

And then…when I hear something new that I like…I’ll buy it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Are Some of Us Part of the Problem?

I’m going to ask my fellow liberals a question which may seem downright unthinkable, but which needs to be asked. After all, if we expect “them” to do some serious self-examination, then we really ought to do some too. And here’s the question:

Have some of us been part of the problem?

In other words, have some of us pushed so hard, so fast, and so obnoxiously that we caused the cultural backlash that helped put Trump in office?

I know...heresy, isn’t it? How is it possible to push too hard, too fast, and too obnoxiously for things that we believe are right?

Well, first of all, imagine hearing those words coming from “them”, because they believe that they’re right too; and they’re pushing just as hard. But more to the point, I want to tell you about something that happened to a friend of mine.

He recently had a woman who “identified herself, rather loudly, as a feminist” go ballistic on him for holding the door for her. What he saw as simply being polite, and not letting the door slam in the face of the person...male or female...behind him, she took as him trying to assert his masculinity and dominance over her.

And I can sadly say that this is not an isolated incident. I’ve heard of this happening to countless guys before, and I have to ask myself is it this type of loud, obnoxious “feminist” that causes certain conservative pundits to use the term “feminazi”?

Have they pushed things just a little too far, and destroyed any goodwill that the women’s movement might have had among some people?

I told my friend that this woman was not a feminist, but a bully and a jerk. I also reminded him that about 5% of any group is likely to be made up of bullies and jerks, and he just happened to have run into one of them.

But let’s look at this from the larger perspective. Have some of us on the extreme liberal end of things pushed too far, too hard, too fast...and too obnoxiously, thus setting the stage for the Trump backlash?

It’s a definite possibility.

Recently, I read a great book, Why Liberals Win (Even when They Lose Elections). At the end of the book, after the author has made his point from episodes in American history, he brings up a question...the same question I’m bringing up here: Are we sometimes our own worst enemies by pushing too hard?

Sometimes we’re too strident about everyone being “accepting”, so strident that we can’t accept other people’s honest differences of conscience, and we end up trying to bully them into doing things our way…which is, of course, the right way.

Really…can’t we be flexible as some major cultural changes are happening…changes that are happening way too fast for some people to easily assimilate, but that will happen nonetheless, no matter how much pushback we see at the moment?

Do Adam and Steve really have to have that bakery make the cake for their wedding? Or more to the point, do they really have to have that bakery decorate the cake in a way that is in total opposition to their beliefs? Can we consider for a moment that this might be like going to the kosher bakery and not just asking them to make a cake that we’ll be using on Easter Sunday, but to decorate it with “He is Risen”?

And…with all the other qualified people in the County Clerk’s office who could do the job, is it really necessary for them to insist on that clerk signing their marriage license? Is that asserting their rights, or is it bullying?

This brings us back to my friend and the self-proclaimed “feminist.” Are we, in our “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” push for social change, behaving like that woman and others like her, and losing any goodwill that we might have gained by taking a more measured and thoughtful approach?

It’s definitely a question worth considering.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chocolate, Milk, and Sex Maniacs

Three years ago, in response to a disastrous Facebook conversation where I tried to explain that men’s feelings about sex are more nuanced than many women seem to think, and in which one of the women involved said, “Not all women are sex maniacs” (thereby implying that all men are), I wrote the blog piece Sex and the Third Rail.

Funny thing is, though, that I never really got the chance to explain how nuanced guys’ feelings about sex are. I simply wrote about the experience that led up to the blow up.

I’m going to try to do that now, using the example of chocolate milk.

Really…chocolate milk.

But before I start, let’s remember that all analogies are faulty in one way or another, so I don’t want you to start picking this apart. Just look at it as a chance to go, “Oh…I never thought of it that way before.”

OK, now that we’ve got that settled, let me ask you this question: Is chocolate milk all chocolate, all milk, or some combination of both?

OK, assuming that you’re not either stupid or trolling me, you answered that it’s some combination of both. Well, using the standard formula for making a glass of chocolate milk at home, I’ve figured that it’s 84% milk and 16% chocolate. That still means that it’s mostly milk…in fact, it’s overwhelmingly milk…but that little bit of chocolate you add, which is spread out all through the milk now, has a huge effect on the color and flavor. And…unless you have a centrifuge, it’s pretty much impossible to separate the chocolate from the milk.

Now let’s do a little substitution here, and say that the milk represents emotions and the chocolate represents sexual desire. If we do that, then I think we can say that guys are pretty much represented by chocolate milk. By pre-packaged chocolate milk. Sex isn’t the only thing we think about, we are emotional creatures, we are very emotional creatures; but sexual desire, like the chocolate in the milk, is all wound up in the emotions, and can’t easily be separated out.

It’s not all we think of, but it’s in everything we think about. And even then, it’s only a small part of what’s in what we’re thinking about. But it’s inseparable from the rest.

And we not only love chocolate milk, but we have a warehouse of it to give.

Now let’s consider women. Women seem to be more like a gallon of plain milk sitting next to a bottle of Hershey’s syrup. They can pour themselves out plain, and then add some chocolate to themselves if they wish. But the chocolate’s not there all the time, it’s not an intrinsic part of their makeup…it’s just an option that’s available to them should they want it.

And women have a warehouse that stores a lot of plain milk and some Hershey’s syrup.

The problem is that when a woman asks for a glass of milk, and keeps being presented with chocolate milk by her guy, he looks like a “sex maniac.” Similarly, when the guy asks for a glass of milk, and gets plain 2%, he’s wondering why it’s so bland, why there can’t be a little chocolate to it, and why she gets so mad when he tries to go get the bottle of Hershey’s syrup.

But…he’s not 100% chocolate syrup. That’s the definition of a sex maniac here…a person who wants to drink an entire 8-ounce glass of that stuff all the time. And I don’t think anyone could do that.

Although…there does seem to be a stereotype about women loving chocolate.