Thom on July 6th, 2015

I’m getting increasingly frustrated with my Facebook feed. I’m trying to behave myself and not express beliefs that might cause others offense, and if I do I try to do so in a thoughtful manner in a longer post that can capture, perhaps, the nuances of my thoughts. But by accident or intent, I’m not getting the same consideration from some others.

I suspect it’s mostly by accident. They just don’t remember that not everyone they have friended agrees with them. They post meme pics and cartoons thinking that they’re high-fiving their tribe rather than face-slapping people who might feel differently. Or, I suppose, they’re simply responding to others on their feed who are being ornery and offensive and may indeed have some come-uppence coming, but don’t realize that not everyone can see what set them off in the first place. To them this is coming out of nowhere, unprovoked and unwarranted, and so their friend’s push-back is seen as coming out of nowhere, unprovoked, and unwarranted.

Is this who we are? Is this who we want to be? I don’t think most of us start out our social media time thinking, “Who can I smack around today?” Very few of us, popular meme pics aside, would set fire to our house to kill a spider. We wouldn’t nuke Ramadi, killing the entire population of the city, just to remove ISIS.

And yet something about social media makes it easy–even desirable–to lash out at those we supposedly call our friends. I’d like to think we don’t do it consciously.

I know this is not the first time I’ve complained about this. But I’m ready to do something about it. I struggle with being the intolerant guy who just doesn’t want to hear anything contrary, but I’ve decided I wouldn’t have to do this if it weren’t for intolerant, insensitive people who are turning what should be a pleasant experience into something to dread. If they can’t be bothered to take the time to state their case calmly and rationally–and in their own words instead of borrowing from everywhere else–I don’t think I owe them any of my limited time.

This is not a denunciation of everyone. There are many who are fairly careful with what you post, or who in various ways have made it clear you don’t lump me in with the same crowd you’re attacking with your posts. I tend to be more patient with those people. And certainly there are people who regularly do their part to make my feed a happy place. For that I thank you. You’ll be getting more of my attention in the future as I weed out the rest.

I don’t want to give up social media. I do get something from it–I just don’t want it to be heartburn. And by all means, if you do catch me being insensitive in something I’ve posted, feel free to politely bring it to my attention. I don’t want to be a person anyone feels they need to block.

Thom on July 3rd, 2015

“No matter what they take from me, the can’t take away my dignity…”  – Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All”

I’m a little disappointed with George Takei. On his Facebook feed, at least, he’s generally taken the high, humorous road in the pro-gay marriage movement, trying to put a positive face on things. Now that that movement has succeeded is he giving up on that?

Actor and gay rights advocate George Takei is slamming Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after his dissent to last week’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide claimed that the government can neither give nor take away human dignity.

“He is a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court. He gets me that angry,” the former “Star Trek” star said in an interview with Fox 10 this week in Phoenix, standing alongside his longtime partner and husband.

“For him to say slaves had dignity … I mean, doesn’t he know slaves were chained? That they were whipped on the back?” Takei asked.

A lot of people were and are passionate about the pro-gay movement. I get that. And I get that, as he goes on to relate, his own family, as Japanese Americans during World War II, suffered signficant discrimination and privation. But does Thomas deserve to be called “a clown in blackface” just because they disagree over how they should feel about the nature of dignity? Takei uses racially-charged words, if not outright racist, and most people would not get a pass on that. You’d never guess that Takei’s side just won the day.

It seems extreme to me to get that upset over a basically philosophical argument. Disagree with Thomas all you like, but there’s no need to sink to that level of invective. It’d be like President Obama getting verbally abusive at the people who didn’t vote for him because they disagree with what he meant by “change”.

But is Takei’s over-all point true? Can governmental actions take away someone’s dignity? What is dignity, anyway? Re:

1. bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
2. nobility or elevation of character; worthiness.
3. elevated rank, office, station, etc.
4. relative standing; rank.
5. a sign or token of respect:

Depending on how you care to arrange the order of definitions, I suppose the answer is “maybe.” I know there are many who like to think of the government as the source from which all things flow, but I’m not sure dignity is one of those things they can give or take away. Certainly they can create conditions under which it’s difficult to maintain one’s self-respect or elevation of character.

But can they grant it? I don’t think so. How can you make a person feel and demonstrate self-respect or nobility of character if they don’t already feel it themselves? Did millions of gays across America suddenly acquire dignity last week? Does the Supreme Court have the ability to grant dignity? Did the Emancipation Proclamation grant dignity to freed blacks? Or did they not get dignity until the end of Segregation? Was Martin Luther King, Jr. lacking in dignity because the government had not yet given it to him?

I believe the answer is not a simple one, but I’m certainly not willing to go as far as Mr. Takei. The government can’t give it or take it away–not by itself. It can create circumstances that foster or undermine it, but dignity is for each of us to grasp for ourselves. Certainly there are plenty of Americans who seem to lack dignity, and yet are rich and successful by most standards. (I won’t name names, but I’ll bet you already have a few in mind.) It’s their choice to act undignified.

There have been plenty on both sides of the gay rights movement who have done their utmost to deny their opponents any dignity. Could Takei’s disparagement of Justice Thomas be an attempt to deny him dignity? And who is more undignified in this example? Would Takei have been so upset had Thomas’ argument been voiced in the majority opinion of the Court? How about if Thomas had himself voted in favor of gay marriage? Would Takei still have objected to his opinion?

But back to dignity. As I mentioned above, it’s not a cut and dried issue. I’ve been looking at a few quotes on dignity, and it seems the word itself has grown beyond easy definition. Some examples, which I’ll let finish this post for me:

“In the 21st century, I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion.”
– Kofi Annan

“When will the day come that our dignity will be fully restored, when the purpose of our lives will no longer be merely to survive until the sun rises tomorrow!”
– Thabo Mbeki

“The human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this.”
– William Wordsworth

“To revolt is a natural tendency of life. Even a worm turns against the foot that crushes it. In general, the vitality and relative dignity of an animal can be measured by the intensity of its instinct to revolt.”
– Mikhail Bakunin

“The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of workers, peasants and the intelligentsia, the solidarity of the nation, the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience.”
– Lech Walesa

“We have been educated into believing someone else’s concept of the deity, and someone else’s standard of beauty. You have the right to practice any religion and politics in a way that best suits your freedom, your dignity, and your understanding. And once you do that, you don’t apologize.”
– John Henrik Clarke

“That means that every human being – without distinction of sex, age, race, skin color, language, religion, political view, or national or social origin – possesses an inalienable and untouchable dignity.”
– Hans Kung

“No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.”
– Booker T. Washington

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”
– Cesar Chavez

“By a lie, a man… annihilates his dignity as a man.”
– Immanuel Kant

“Human dignity is better served by embracing knowledge.”
– John Charles Polanyi

“Why do the people humiliate themselves by voting? I didn’t vote because I have dignity. If I had closed my nose and voted for one of them, I would spit on my own face.”
– Oriana Fallaci

“Dignity does not come from avenging insults, especially from violence that can never be justified. It comes from taking responsibility and advancing our common humanity.”
– Hillary Clinton

“Freedom, morality, and the human dignity of the individual consists precisely in this; that he does good not because he is forced to do so, but because he freely conceives it, wants it, and loves it.”
– Mikhail Bakunin

“There is no dignity in wickedness, whether in purple or rags; and hell is a democracy of devils, where all are equals.”
– Herman Melville

“Dignity does not float down from heaven it cannot be purchased nor manufactured. It is a reward reserved for those who labor with diligence.”
– Bill Hybels

“The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others.”
– Dag Hammarskjold

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Thom on July 2nd, 2015

The new version of Bubble Wrap won’t pop!

And while that’s all well and good for us poppers, the cost of sending this things around is just too high. The new and improved form of bubble wrap will ship as rolls of flat, uninflated sheets that packers will blow up on-site with a special pump. It’s a very practical move, and the popability is just an unfortunate casualty.

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Thom on July 2nd, 2015

This song has been over-done, to say the least. But this arrangement by Salt Lake Pops gives it new life:

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My boys have been after me for a while to read the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series of books by John Flanagan, an Australian writer. I’ve been slowly making my way through the series (I’ve also got a long reading list from my daughter, and my own list, so it takes a little time to work through them all equally) and recently finished “The Battle for Skandia”, the fifth book.

Flanagan’s got the 8-14 year-old boy demographic pegged. He writes exciting adventure novels based loosely on various world cultures like England, France, Norse, Mongol, Arabian, etc. The hero, Will, is a young orphan with a penchant for climbing and sneaking into places he shouldn’t. Much to his surprise he winds up apprenticed to become a Ranger, King Duncan’s elite scout and spy corps. And even more lucky, he’s apprenticed to Halt, perhaps the best ranger there is–though Will’s not so sure he’s so lucky to be apprenticed to the stern, stoic Halt. He’s tough and demanding, but if you get a compliment you know you’ve earned it.

Through the five novels Will grows in skill and confidence as he follows Halt through dangers and intrigues, great battles, and foreign lands. By the fifth book Will has progressed so much that he is able to train and command his own group of archers in a key battle.

Flanagan is good at weaving action, description, humor, and boyhood fantasy into every book, and each book improves over the others. They’re not deep books, by any means, but they’re a lot of fun. I still feel tension over the characters’ situations, and I’ve laughed out loud over some of the jokes. And I believe the over-all messages of patience, determination, and doing what’s right no matter the cost are excellent lessons for anyone, not just the target demographic.

I’ve still got a ways to go–eight more books in that series alone–but I’m looking forward to the journey.

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Thom on July 1st, 2015

Murad Mardilos Wartanian is the mayor of a town in Armenia so small Google Maps doesn’t know it exists. Most of us will never hear of Wartanian or anyone else in his town of 115 families. But to the 86+ families they took in from war-torn Iraq they are the world.

I like to think I’d do the same, but…would I?


Thom on June 30th, 2015

It’s both a compliment and deeply troubling that some Americans are asking,”Why do we need free speech?” We’ve enjoyed free speech for so long, it seems, that we don’t easily see the more dangerous implications hiding behind “by removing free speech we can do away with the minor annoyances of dealing with contrary ideas.” But it’s deeply troubling that we also seem to be incapable of looking at history or beyond our borders to see what the curtailing of free speech becomes. It’s deeply troubling in that most of the advocates for curtailing it in America have themselves benefitted from it enormously in recent years. They seem to be completely ignorant to the fact that no one clamped down on their freedom of speech when they started agitating for many of the changes that are coming to fruition today. In many ways it’s the equivalent of, “thanks for not stomping on me when you had the chance, sucker. *STOMP!!!!*”

What is truly ironic, however, is that one area where free speech is under attack is in what used to be monuments to the free exchange of knowledge and ideas. Whereas colleges and universities once launched anti-authoritarian movements, they’re now the primary vehicles of authoritarianism. Today’s college students need to be protected from any ideas that might cause them discomfort. Imagine that. How much discomfort did the various campus movements of the 1960’s cause students? What would have happened if campuses decided back then that questioning the government and cultural traditions had to come with trigger warnings and only take place in approved campus locations–if at all? What if the Young Republicans had been able to mount campaigns to ban liberal speakers from campuses under the banner of protecting students from hateful, angry speech?

The world would look very different today. There’s no denying that. So it’s ironic that colleges, bastions of liberalism, have embraced the hard-right conservatism they supposedly used to oppose. They are the ones who are afraid of change.

But you don’t have to take my word for it:

When I went to college I was exposed to some ideas that were not entirely comfortable. On occasions my beliefs were verbally mocked by other students. I not only survived, I think I grew a little. Certainly my horizons broadened. I may not have chosen to be exposed to those contrary ideas, but hiding from them wouldn’t have helped me in the slightest.

Also for your consideration: Univ. of WI Releases List of Microaggressions; Saying “Everyone can Succeed” now racist.

Thom on June 29th, 2015

If you’ve been on YouTube much you’ll notice that they keep trying to recommend videos for you based on previous viewing. Sometimes I really have to scratch my head. “Seriously? You thought I might like to watch that?! Based on what, exactly?” But occasionally they get it right and hook me up with something unexpectedly good. I’m guessing that my interest in Tony DeSare last week made a connection somewhere that I like Jazz, coupled with evidence that I do like foreign music at times.

At any rate, it started recommending Simona Molinari videos. In spite of my interest in a few foreign artists (Nolwenn Leroy, Mickael Miro), I don’t jump on every European recommendation it throws up, as most of them have left me cold. But Ms. Molinari, it turns out, is one of the pleasant exceptions. She’s got a voice as clear as a bell, rather versatile, and inflective without overdoing it. And she and Peter Cincotti (an American of Italian descent) have good vocal chemistry on their duets, I think.

Sometimes I think the reason why I like foreign singers is because I don’t have to pay attention to what they’re saying and can just focus on their voices. But it takes more than that. She’s got an expressive voice that makes it sound effortless. She’s fun to listen to. Your mileage may vary, of course, but for better or worse, here’s Ms. Molinari to make her case:

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Thom on June 26th, 2015

The Piano Guys recently liked a video from Tony DeSare. After listening to a couple of his arrangements I think I can recommend him for your listening and watching pleasure.

The first song I listened to was this interesting mashup of Pharell’s “Happy” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. It’s mostly Pharell’s song done in McFerrin’s style, but it’s oddly catchy.

I first heard this song done by Harry Connick, Jr. DeSare puts his own touch on it, and I must say I like it.

And this one, “I Love a Piano”, played on various street-art pianos around New York, is fun on many levels:

Fun video. It almost makes me wish I lived in New York. I should probably find out more about the “Sing For Hope”, who I believe sponsored the pianos.

DeSare’s got a bit of a Harry vibe, but he’s not just an imitator. I’ll be paying more attention to this guy.

Bonus: 17 Versions of Jingle Bells:

His Randy Newman, Michael McDonald, and Neil Diamond versions were pretty darn good!


Thom on June 25th, 2015

The world would be a much better place if we could just get that other guy to change his mind!

That’s the heart of most of the conflict I see out there. We complain, we insult, we attack, we guilt, and point out all the falacies and illogic in their arguments, but doggone it, they just don’t change! What is wrong with these people?! Why can’t they just do what they oughta?

The real question, however, is probably why can’t we do what we oughta?

Suppose I don’t like hockey.* Perhaps I even have a negative impression of the game and, by association, anyone who would like to watch it. I may have also had some bad experiences with half-drunk hockey fans who harrassed me and my family one time when we had to get past them on the street. And then I encounter two different representatives.

Fred is a guy I work with. He thinks I’m hyper-critical about hockey, and perhaps even a little dumb for disliking it. He regularly finds opportunities to harrass me about it in the hallways, sometimes even in department meetings. If ever I mess up on an assignment he teases, “Hey, a hockey fan would never make that mistake!” And ever since he found I don’t like hockey it seems he’s hanging up some new bit of hockey memorabilia in his cubicle every day and insisting I check it out when I walk past.

And then there’s Tim. He’s always willing to answer questions, and sometimes pitches in to help if I’m getting behind on stuff. He’s always quick with a smile and a “good morning”, and we often have good conversations about our families. If I mess up on something he sticks up for me in meetings, and is willing to help to set things right. He found out we both like baseball, and we regularly discuss great games we saw recently.

One day the office runs a promotion in which the top people are given two tickets to a hockey game. I don’t enter, of course. But it turns out that both Fred and Tim win and get tickets.

Fred stops by my cubicle first. “Hey, loser!” he says, “I got some free tickets! How about you and me go so I can show you what you’ve been missing? Come on, don’t be a lame-o loser, let’s do it!”

Later in the day Tim stops by. “Hey, I won these tickets. Fred tells me you don’t like hockey, but I thought it might be fun to do something together. We can get dinner first at wherever you choose, and if you don’t like the game we can leave. What do you say? Please?”

Who is more likely to talk me into going to the game? Who is more likely to modify my opinion of hockey and hockey fans? Tim may never convince me to like hockey, but he may at least get me to modify my opinion of hockey fans, because he doesn’t fit the mold I imagine in my mind. Fred, however? I’d rather be pecked to death by hummingbirds than go to a game with him. And he’d never be able to change my opinion of hockey fans because he plays into the very stereotype I’ve built up in my head.

But if I were to ever go to a hockey game, it would be with Tim. If anyone could ever change my mind on hockey it would be him. Why? Because it’s clear to me his friendship is genuine. He isn’t bothered that I don’t like hockey. And he certainly doesn’t seem to base his behavior toward me on my enjoyment of hockey. I have the feeling if I were to go with him and then decide to leave he’d be okay with that. And knowing that, I’d probably be more willing to give it a try–for him.

Now, imagine if Fred could be more like Tim. Having two guys at work that I trust and respect want to take me to a game–heck, I’d probably go. Just knowing they like hockey would probably start to soften my resistance to it. It’s hard to say. But they, at the very least, wouldn’t keep adding to my list of reasons to dislike it.

Unfortunately the Tim method of persuasion is hard, and it takes time. Who wants to wait that long? This issue is just too important to wait any longer!

And therein lies the problem. You’ll never convince anyone your cause or issue is important until they believe that they are more important than your cause. I know someone who is currently struggling to get enough people lined up for two events he is putting together to advance a particular cause. His approach to get more people to come is to harangue them about how lazy and uncommitted they are and how they aren’t worthy of the cause. I really doubt this is going to yield the desired results. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get even less of a turnout to the next–and perhaps even this–set of events because people don’t want to be treated like that.

You’ve heard the expression “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar”, I’m sure. The modern equivalent seems to be, “You may kill more flies with a flamethrower, but you won’t burn your house down in the process with honey.”

If you want to change someone you’ll get better results through love and respect than coersion, intimidation, bribery, or guilt.

Or put another way, live in such a way that your causes and ideas are made better by the association. It’s not quick, and it’s not easy, but it works.

* – I’ve got nothing against hockey. It’s just an example, as I’ve never been to a game.

Update: Along those lines, there’s this:

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