The Bard

Today I travelled, so I leave you with an easy quote.

 

‘Remember what the poet Shakespeare said, Jeeves.’

‘What was that, sir?’

‘”Exit hurriedly, pursued by a bear.”  You’ll find it in one of his plays.  I remember drawing a picture of it on the side of the page, when I was at school.’

 

Bertie Wooster and Jeeves from Wodehouse’s Very Good, Jeeves

An Apology to the Future

 

Dear The Future,

I am sorry for having offended you.  I am sorry for my shortsighted opinions and for my stubbornness in sticking to old, worn out ideas, offensive words and phrases, and ethics that have not withstood the test of time.  I am sorry for my inability to see the accepted truth and morals so undeniable in your future time.  Despite how obvious they are to all in the future, I cannot easily see them from here.  I apologize for failing to be in that small minority of my own time that saw the truth.

I give no excuse for not knowing better and seeing more clearly.  In my own time, ignorance of the law does not excuse breaking it.  But we do dictate lighter punishments for those who did not have the mens rea when they commit a crime, so I ask that I be judged with mercy for how I have lived and the words I have written.  I do not beg not to be judged.  Instead, I humbly ask to be judged as you would have yourselves judged by those who will undoubtedly come after you, for surely the future will see your own customs just as backward and evil as you see mine.

Sincerely,

Matt Gold, Dandridge, TN and NY, NY, 2014

 

The morals and social mores of my current time and place (early 21st century USA) are vastly different from what was accepted even 1-2 centuries ago.  Going back in time a thousand years or so, or switching locations, brings us to a world with dramatically different guidelines of good and evil.  The determination and execution of justice is wildly different across time or distance.  I anticipate it will be just as different a few centuries into the future, though I will not be around to see it.

I own pets, a dog and a couple of cats.  They bring me great joy and are wonderful companions.  Yet it would not be hard to see how the future may consider the keeping of animals for companionship an immoral form of slavery.  It may be viewed as a barbaric relic from the past.  A brutal past when people determined when animals would eat, when they could go outside, where they could go and when they had to sleep or wake up.  We choose their mates based on specific physical characteristics or we remove their ability to reproduce.  Perhaps I am blinded by the morals of my time.

From a more extreme perspective, we do not give our children equal rights as adults until the age of 18, even though they may be entirely capable of making decisions before then.  Effectively, we do not give them rights over travel, rights over their reproductive choices, rights to vote on their own taxes, the ability to choose where they live, the right sign a contract, etc.  There are many reasons I consider valid as to why this is true, but it is entirely possible that at some time in the future, the enslavement of our own children for their early life may be considered a terrible injustice.

For much of history, if you conquered people, it was your right to enslave them.  Slavery was not considered an evil, but rather the just spoils of war.  Today, slavery is considered to be one of the worst evils to blemish the past of mankind.  In the past, intimate relationships between men and young boys was accepted.  Today it is given some of the strongest punishments and it brands those who have such relationships as dangerous to society for the rest of their lives.

From the direction of what was once considered evil now being acceptable, homosexual relationships in certain past times were punishable by death.  Today, many people and governments accept these relationships as equal to any other relationship and punish those who discriminate against them.   The manner in which the past treated these relationships is considered monstrous.  The list of the differences between what is acceptable in the past versus the present day is enormous.  We should anticipate this list will always change as we step forward into the future.

Today, some words are considered inherently offensive, regardless of whether or not they were offensive at the time they were put into print.  Words used to describe minorities that were accepted by all (including those minorities) in the past are no longer accepted in current speech or print.  Words that had no derogatory meaning at the time have acquired negative connotations, long after the innocent authors who wrote them passed away.  Books that used them are no longer considered acceptable reading for young, impressionable minds.  Certain ideas or symbols are now considered to be so full of hate that they warrant expulsion from a school, lest students be exposed to them and offended by them.

I do not know what words I use, or which ideas I have, that will be considered hateful in the future.  I do not know which aspects of how I live my life will be considered thoughtless, selfish, immoral, and utterly insane.  But of this I am certain: that the judgement of the future on myself and my own time will be harsh.  This is how every future society views the customs of the past.  It may only be mellowed by the knowledge that I myself, and many of my time, could not see beyond our own customs.

If there is an interest in reading my words at some future time (one can only dream), I hope some things I have said are timeless and still speak to future readers.  The best reason to put down and discard my writings is because I have nothing worthy to say.  Please don’t discard them because my words and ideas are offensive.  My only desire is to communicate my thoughts, to search for art, passion, humor, and insight.  It is never to offend the sensibilities of my readers, though that may be the only certain byproduct.  To write is to risk offense and I intend to continue writing.

If you find my writings offensive, laugh at them, laugh at yourself, and get over it.  The world is a far better place when people laugh at themselves.  You must laugh at what is sacred to you.  You must find humor in that which you care about intensely.  That which cannot survive laughter is too fragile to survive inquiry.  An idea that cannot survive a bit of ribbing is nothing worthy of your time.  If you love it that much, it is surely strong enough to withstand laughter.

 

“The final test of truth is ridicule. Very few dogmas have ever faced it and survived.

H. L. Mencken

Noodles and a Crane

As I’m traveling today, I have little time to write, think, or try to entertain.  Rather than leave you with this, I give to you a picture of my lunch (how boorish!) and an origami crane.  Enjoy.

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The crane was slightly mauled by one of the beasts in my house, but the lunch was excellent!  I prefer Maruchan Ramen to Nissin Cup Noodles, but that’s mostly because I have fold memories of the Ramen I used to snack on in my teens and 20s.  The Nissin brand is more flavorful and therefore more authentic.  It’s not bad, but when it comes to Asian food, the less authentic the better.  As far as I can tell, this goes for Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese.  I think Japan may be okay, but I haven’t been there to know for sure.

Don’t think because you enjoy your local Chinese restaurant that you can eat in China.  You likely can’t.  My dainty, bland little American tastes quail when confronted by the real thing.  I remember visiting a food court in Singapore in a very high end mall and seeing a store called “Pig Organ Soup.”  All I wanted was a handful of french fries, but after seeing the pictures below the sign, I decided never to eat again.

Nobody Wins! Yay!

“Everybody is a Winner!”

President Obama to children at an Easter Egg Roll at the White House

 

I have never heard of an Easter Egg Roll before.  I only knew of the Chinese food variety, which I love dearly.  Apparently this is an event for kids hosted on the White House lawn.  Apparently, you roll an egg with a spoon and try to win by racing the other kids.  I don’t know if there is betting or humiliation involved (or physical humor, I love physical humor), it would require a blood relation to keep my interest.

 

When I read a statement like our President’s above, I am always drawn to two similar quotes from The Incredibles, that awesome 2004 Pixar movie.  The first is from the super fast kid who isn’t allowed to go out for sports.  This is due to his overwhelming talent and likelihood of being unable to fit in when his powers are revealed.

 

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.

Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

 

The second quotes is from the villain, when he explains his motivation for killing everyone with natural super powers, then selling normal people powers equal to superheros.

Syndrome:  Everyone can be super.   And when everyone is super, no one will be.

 

I am reminded of Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Bergeron.  If you haven’t read it before, read it now, it’s super short so you can do it even if you are unmotivated.

We all know that the egg roll is a race.  Unless you change the rules, there is a winner in every race.  At the track (I’ve heard), you bet on the top three horses coming in with a certain order, not to pretend the limping horse in last place is the equal to the fastest. 

There is pride in finishing a marathon.  There can be pride in even getting off the starting post.  Many people who achieve these goals are winners in their own ways for having overcome obstacles along the way.  But they are not the equal of the runner who crossed the finish line first.  The person who finished first was THE winner, the runner with the fastest time.  No amount of cheering or distraction can take away from his domination of his opponents.

 

Not all movies are Best Picture and not all shots hit the bulls eye.  To pretend otherwise is just an egalitarian fantasy.  Let the winning child bask in the glory of his egg rolling talent!  Let us encourage children to try to be the best they can be.  And when they win, let them feel the elation of their success.  Let’s not demean the efforts of the winner by giving gold medals to everyone. 

 

The Ukraine doesn’t get a gold medal for failing to keep Russia out and the person who is the second place choice for the promotion doesn’t take home a bigger paycheck.  It is worth striving to be first.  We are not simply lucky that the USA became the strongest economic and military powerhouse the world has ever seen.  Russia and the United States were not both winners of the Cold War.  Germany and Japan didn’t tie for first in World War II.  Past generations as well as our own have worked tremendously hard to raise ourselves to our current level.  We should be proud of our efforts, not just because we tried, but because we won.

 

 

 

Pay Attention to a Disproportionate Response

My wonderful father, a man with tremendous insight into people’s character, used to tell our family a rule of psychology.  It has probably been noticed and been around for a long time, but since he brought it to our attention, I’ll give him all the credit.  I think we used to call this Gold’s Rule, in honor of the Gold family (my family, thank you), though I may be confused with that other Gold’s Rule, “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.”

It went much as follows: a disproportionate response was a fantastic indicator of lying on the part of the responder.  If asked, “Did you do this?”  The answer is often given as “No, I didn’t do that.”  But every once in a while, the response would come back as “How dare you accuse me of such a thing!” or “I am offended you even suggest I did that!”  These responses are almost certain to come from a guilty party.  Not knowing the answer to such a question, but asking two people about it, bet against the one with the over-the-top reaction to the suggestion of their guilt.

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In addition, I would add that facts are facts and science is science.  Facts and science do not change based on who is doing a study or who is asking a question.  Methods used matter, but the source of the information does not. 

If a terrible person comes up with a scientific discovery, it is no less valid than that of a living saint.  It can either be reproduced or it can’t.  If Galileo was a bastard who watered down drinks when he bar tended (I made that up), it doesn’t mean he was wrong about the relationship between the Earth and the Sun.  Fritz Haber, one of the most successful scientists at developing poison gas for Germany to use in WWI, was also the discoverer of how to synthesize ammonia, without which our farming could not support (literally) billions alive today.  Haber’s process for ammonia is not a minor discovery due to the fact that he was a cretin.

And so, we come to the news today.  A brand spankin’ new study says, according to the article on it, “biofuels made with corn residue release 7 percent more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.”  This is in direct contradiction to a 2012 study stating that these same biofuels are 95% better on greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.  I haven’t read either study, only the AP press release on it.  But the article has the response included in it.  It is no surprise that the biofuel industry is going after the study as invalid for a number of reasons, and this response by a billion dollar industry makes sense.  This is not a disproportionate response.  I will not attempt to argue who is right or wrong.

It is the government response that makes one scratch their head.  The study was funded by the federal government and was published in a peer review journal, much like many such studies the government funds all the time.  Since the study was just released, it is a bit early for the government to jump in with an opinion.  Keep in mind, no government or bureaucracy moves quickly, ever, yet this response came the same day as the AP report of the news.  A measured response would be, “We will look into this study and review its significance.  As this contradicts other studies and has new information not published prior, we need to understand why these differences occurred.”

Instead, an EPA spokesman said it “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.”  That was a quick response.  The research was immediately criticized by the administration as flawed.  Too fast for my taste.  NO useful information?  None at all came from the study?  Hard to believe it came through the peer review process and was published at all.  Sounds a bit too much like it didn’t fit a political agenda.  Not knowing the truth of the matter, the EPA response has given me reason to question the government’s attachment to scientific truth.  Nothing wrong with disagreeing with a study.  Something very wrong with behavior out of the ordinary.

 

Spectacular Evil

roger

The face of evil – Roger Smith on American Dad

 

I freely admit to watching cartoons with adult themes.  I’m not referring to XXX adult themes or any of the Japanese hentai variety, but the more mainstream such as American Dad, Family Guy, or Futurama.  The sort that children would enjoy, but adults would enjoy much more as they pick up on obscure references or sexual innuendos.  I intentionally leave South Park out of the mix as I feel it is a true satire of modern society.  It is better written than the others and deserves its own separate post.

My favorite characters, and also the favorites of my friends, are always the evil ones.  We are drawn to Bender, Roger, and Stewie in everything they do.  All are sociopaths, but none are as great as Roger.  And there is no character we enjoy more than Roger.  Just having him appear in a scene is enough to bring a smile to my face.

Bender and Stewie are both good at heart.  Stewie will vaporize people who annoy him and Bender will plot the overthrow of the entire human race while stealing priceless jewels.  But ultimately, Stewie loves Brian and goes out of his way to help from time to time.  Bender, in the midst of plotting to exterminate mankind, will try to help the humans he loves escape the fate of the rest of mankind.  Neither of these characters are pure in their evil.  None of them approach Roger.

Roger is pure evil.  He personifies all seven of the deadly sins and he does so with creativity and gusto.

In his own words:

“I’m going to make you cry and dip my cookie in your tears.”

Or, in another episode, after his Christmas sweater is complimented:

“Thanks, I totally sniped it from a guy on eBay. I not only stole the sweater, I stole his holiday spirit and that made my holiday spirit grow stronger.  Because, that’s how it works, right?  Like “Highlander”?  There can be only one?”

We love Roger for his unabashed vileness.  But we also love him because he is terribly weak.  He is lazy, physically weak, an emotional wreck, and largely incompetent.  He is easily wounded (emotionally), he insults all around him at every opportunity, and there is nothing redeeming about him. He never learns his lesson (awesome!), he goes to the ends of the Earth to have revenge for a perceived slight, and he betrays his friends and family at every turn.  He will literally die if he is nice to people.  His perfection is unblemished.

 

 

“Does this furniture polish have alcohol in it? [drinks bottle] Hmm, tastes like I might die.”

 

Unadulterated Pleasure and Washing Clothes

I despise doing laundry.  Sure, like everybody, I get joy from having clean clothes.  And there’s nothing inherently awful about using a washing machine or dryer.  It’s the folding part that brings on thoughts of suicide.  Ultimately, when I do my own laundry, my folded clothes come out of the dryer and I turn them into clean, folded, terribly wrinkled clothes.  I put on these clothes and it looks like I just rolled out of bed.  I hate that look.

I’ve always considered myself a capable guy and able to acquire any skill.  The truth is, I can acquire any skill EXCEPT neat folding.  Also, I’m not very good at reading instructions before I try to use new technology.  I can read them after I become terribly frustrated, but I can’t bring myself to read them first.

Though I do my best to avoid the laundry, I have to do it on occasion.  Today, when putting a bunch of towels in the dryer, I had an epiphany.

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There is a single, harmless, pure joy in the world, and that is clearing the dryer filter of lint.  That and puppies, but this blog isn’t about puppies.

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Isn’t he cute eating his own foot while the other shows us his butt?  Now ignore the picture as it has nothing to do with this post.

 

I have asked many people and the anecdotal evidence is clear:  Everyone loves removing the lint from the filter.  The lint comes off in one piece, is minimally dirty, and it leaves the filter virtually spotless.  Since everything in the dryer was cleaned in the washer first, it even smells pleasantly like your fabric softener.  And it’s necessary, so you are doing something useful by getting rid of it.  Cleaning it is fast and efficient.  The only downside is after the process is finished, when you realize that mankind has not measurably improved by your act.

Something about cleaning the filter meshes perfectly with the natural anal retentiveness of the human mind.  It is the same joy as staring at the freshly removed Bioré strip, but much less disgusting than the impurities that were on your nose.  Where does our fascination with making something perfectly clean originate?  When you smear on the white wax on a car in careful little circles, then use a clean towel to get rid of the residue, you leave behind a sparkling paint job.  No white circles remain after you are done.  It’s not the applying of the wax that give true pleasure, but its removal.  The feeling of removing Elmer’s glue from your fingers in long perfect strips is satisfying.  But Why?

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This is how I imagine a Bioré strip looks up close.  Ugh.

 

This is especially apparent when something is peeled off.  Using paint remover and rubbing away a stray drop is one thing, but to peel off that dried drop of paint is much better.  I don’t know why this is so, but I’ve recognized this since I was a kid playing with arts and crafts.

When in our evolution did it become useful to give us pleasure from peeling away a layer?  Of course, bacteria and all other sorts of nasty things are left behind, but we don’t see them anymore and ancient men had no idea of their existence.  I doubt a caveman was ever able to create the clean conditions left behind that we experience after wax or glue has been removed.  Was it removing the skin of a banana to get at the fruit inside?  This seems unlikely.  Of what assistance to his survival was this odd source of elation? 

There is much less satisfaction in picking up things off a floor than there is in the perfect clean removal of something dirty.  Does it come from some animal desire to clean our wounds?  Or is it just a bit of OCD from the modern era?  I say it dates back much farther than the Elmer company.  The pleasure in peeling away is too universal.  It brings a visceral happiness.

Without easy answers, I find these questions highly unsatisfying.  Truth is, in looking too deeply into this, I have discovered I no longer care what makes me (and everyone else) tick this way.  Maybe some future sociologist or biologist or anthropologist or psychiatrist can answer this question for their doctoral thesis, but it no longer holds my interest.  When they do publish it, I won’t read it (unless it creates a scandal, then I will definitely read it).  Instead, I’m going to go pull a perfect rug of lint off the dryer’s filter and dump it in the trash.

 

As I have no answers for you, the least I can do is leave you with a quote on housekeeping from Mark Twain.

“Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else; this is not a piece of advice, it is merely a custom.”