Campaign Slogans

2020 is fast approaching and, while some have dropped out, there are still fifteen Democrats running for president. It’s confusing keeping track of them all. To try to help, I figured I’d present an honest, and hopefully memorable, slogan for each candidate.

Michael Bennet: Just a guy running for president

Joe Biden: Huh? What?

Michael Bloomberg: I’m richer than the other rich guy

Cory Booker: Will somebody please notice me?

Pete Buttigieg: I may be white and male, but I’m young and I’m gay

Julian Castro: I worked for Obama

John Delaney: I’ve been running forever

Tulsi Gabbard: Democrat? Are you sure?

Amy Klobuchar: Biding my time

Deval Patrick: Wait, I’m running for president?

Bernie Sanders: Hey, Democrats can be racist and sexist, too

Tom Steyer: I’m the other rich guy

Elizabeth Warren: Pay attention everyone, this is important

Marianne Williamson: I like miracles

Andrew Yang: F***ing free money, nerds!

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Philosophy Phridays – Lady Anne Conway

Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is about Lady Anne Conway.

Lady Anne Conway was a seventeenth century, English philosopher. Philosophy, in general, is very male (and very white). It is a problem the discipline is still struggling with. It is rare to encounter any important women in the field prior to the twentieth century. The few who made it should be celebrated and championed.

Conway was able to learn philosophy through her friendship with Henry More. He taught her through letters that they exchanged. From the letters we have, it looks like they studied Platonism and Cartesian philosophy. Later in her life, she met Francis Mercury van Helmont, who introduced her to kabbalah and Quakerism. She combined these into her own philosophy which was an influence on Leibniz (for those who don’t know, Leibniz was one of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment, and invented calculus).

Her book is called The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy. In it, she deals mainly with metaphysics, religion, and ethics. She believed that the world was divided into three levels of being, or “species” as she called it. The highest level is God, the source of all being. The third level is what she called “Creature,” which is basically us and what we think of as the world. The middle level is Christ, which links the first and third levels. A principle of “likeness” links everything, so the fact that God is good means that the creation is also good.

Conway didn’t believe in corporeal bodies. For her, the creation was made of monads and all of creation is living and capable of motion and perception. In other words, God’s spirit infuses everything. This is getting uncomfortably close to pantheism, though, the idea that God is everything. It’s interesting how often people who think deeply about God wind up with pantheism, but that’s getting off topic. To protect herself from charges of pantheism, she used the idea of Christ, or the “middle ground,” to act as both a buffer and a link between God and the creation. There’s still a strong whiff of pantheism about it, but that’s ok. The monads in particular were an influence on Leibniz. It is impressive for someone trained in Cartesian thought to reject mind/body dualism, but she was ahead of her time.

Ethically, Conway believed that evil is basically being distant from God. That must come from her Platonism. She believed that everything could improve by getting closer to God. She also denied the concept of Hell. The idea of eternal punishment is incompatible with God being all good. As a Unitarian Universalist, that’s an idea close to my heart. Instead, all suffering is a type of purgatory, a way of moving us closer to God.

That’s a simple summary of Conway’s thought. It deserves more recognition in the history of philosophy classes. I don’t know how many people I will reach, but it feels good to help spread the word. If you’re interested in learning more, there is Sarah Hutton’s book. I wonder what next week will bring us.

Hutton, Sarah, “Lady Anne Conway”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/conway/>

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12 Stories In 12 Months

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Yesterday, I posted my twelfth story in the twelve stories in twelve months challenge. It felt good. Not much has gone right for me this year, but at least I was successful in one thing.

Most of the stories were acceptable. The word counts often made for some less than ideal choices, but for the most part the stories came out anyway. I posted eleven of the twelve stories here. The one that I didn’t post was terrible. The idea wasn’t bad, but it was impossible to do it justice in a short story. If I’m lucky, it might turn into my first novel, but I’m not sharing it with anyone before then.

The challenge was fun. I got to experiment with different ideas and styles. Lucky for me, I don’t have to stop. The group will let me keep writing as long as I want to. I think I’m going to try to make it twenty-four in a row. If it sounds intriguing to anyone else, you can sign up at deadlinesforwriters.com.

In case you missed any of them, here are the eleven stories I posted:

January: A fantasy story.

February: Some science fiction.

March: Realistic fiction.

April: Realistic fiction.

May: More realistic fiction.

June: Meta-comedy.

July: Very short story about big important themes.

August: Family drama, but this is the month I didn’t post.

September: A musical, sort of.

October: Realistic fiction.

November: A children’s Thanksgiving story.

December: A Christmas story.

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The Head Elf

Well, here were are at story number twelve in the twelve stories in twelve months challenge. This month the prompt was “not my type” and the word count was 1200. I don’t have much to say about it except I’m glad that I got a Christmas story done this year. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Zoey approached Santa as he watched the elves working. “Excuse me, sir. Have you made a decision yet?”

“I’m sorry, Zoey. I haven’t yet.”

“I know it’s not easy, but we need a decision soon. I want to have time to show the new elf the ropes before I retire.”

“I know, I know. I’ve narrowed it down to three candidates. I’ll have a name for you by the end of the week.”

“If you want my input, I’d recommend Winky. . .”

Santa grimaced, caught himself, and gave a weak smile instead. “He is one of the three.”

“Who are the other two?”

“Joey and Blinky.”

“They’re fine elves, sir, but not in the same class as Winky.”

“They all gave really good interviews.”

“But just look at him, Santa,” she gestured toward the working elves. “If everyone worked like Winky, December wouldn’t be such a stressful month.”

Santa sighed and looked down. Winky was working considerably faster than all the other elves. He also seemed to be helping those closest to him. Santa knew Zoey was right, so why was he hesitating? “It’s not all about how fast you work,” he said. “You know better than anyone, there’s the coaching and teambuilding and occasional discipline.”

“I know, sir, but everyone loves Winky. He won’t have any trouble earning their respect.”

Santa sighed again. “I’ll let you know by the end of the week.”

***

Santa called Blinky, Joey, Winky, and Zoey together at the end of the shift. All the other elves were chatting happily and walking toward the exit. “Sorry to keep you,” Santa said. “This won’t take long. As we all know, this is Zoey’s last Christmas as head elf. I’m afraid I’ve become quite dependent on her the past few years. I’m trying to adjust, so I thought you three could give me the end of shift briefing today.”

“Yes, sir!” said Blinky, Joey, and Winky together, but Winky took the initiative and continued, “Overall, stock is 15% above plan, although we’re 3% down on yo-yos and 4% down on sleds.”

“That’s good, but what happened with the yo-yos and sleds?”

Blinky chimed in, “Sorry, Santa, I was in yo-yos today. Somehow distribution sent the yo-yo strings to sleds and the sled pulls to yo-yos. It took us a while to find the right parts.” She paused for a moment, “But now that everything’s sorted, we’ll make up the lost time tomorrow.”

“I’m sure you will,” said Santa. “Joey, how’s morale?”

“Excellent, sir! The sugar-plum and cookies lunch that Winky brought in lifted everyone up.”

Winky said, “It was nothing. I cooked it for fun. I’m just glad everyone enjoyed it.”

“Good, good. Anything else I need to know?” Santa asked.

The three elves looked at each other, then Zoey spoke up, “No, Santa. That covers everything I had prepared.”

“We’re a bunch of busy little bees,” said Winky. “Although, I hear even the busiest of bees is jealous of the busy little elves.”

Everyone laughed, except for Santa.

***

“What’s the matter, dear?” asked Mrs. Claus over dinner.

“Oh, it’s just this head elf thing. I’m really going to miss Zoey.”

“Of course you will, but I don’t think that’s it. She lives two doors down, it’s not like you’ll never see her again.”

“I know, I know, but it’s just going to be so different.”

“Change is part of life, dear.”

“It’s not just that,” said Santa. “I also have to pick a new head elf.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Claus.

“I know who I should pick. Winky is completely qualified, probably more qualified than Zoey was when she took the job, but. . . but. . .”

“You don’t like Winky.”

“What? No, no, no. Of course I like Winky. What’s not to like?”

“Face it, Santa, he’s not your type.”

“Not my type? Not my type? I’m Santa Claus. Everyone’s my type.”

“What about the naughty kids?”

“You know I never actually give them coal. I love everybody.”

“But that doesn’t mean you like everybody,” Mrs. Claus reminded him. “I know you don’t want to admit it, but I’ve known for years that you don’t like Winky.”

“How could you know that? I don’t even know that.”

“Don’t worry. You’re always nice to him. There’s just a warmth you have with most people that isn’t there when you deal with Winky.”

Santa looked defeated. “But if I don’t like Winky, what am I supposed to do?”

“You’re going to make the right decision. If Winky is the best elf for the job, you’ll pick Winky. You’re not looking for a best friend. You’re looking for a head elf.”

“You’re right, you’re right. The idea of not liking someone just makes me so uncomfortable. How am I going to work with him?”

“You’ll be your usual self, dear. In a little while, you’ll get used to Winky. I wouldn’t be surprised if you actually grow fond of him over time.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“I always am, dear.”

***

Santa and Zoey walked onto the work room floor. Santa took a deep breath and said, “Ho, ho, ho,” in a booming voice that filled the great hall.

The elves returned a, “Ho, ho, ho,” of their own and all eyes turned to Santa.

“I have an announcement,” he began in the same booming voice. “Tomorrow is the first day of December. I’m sure you’ve all heard that Zoey will be retiring as head elf, so this will be her last Christmas in the position. I tried to talk her out of it, she is only eight hundred and twelve, after all. But once she’s made up her mind, she’s made up her mind.”

A ripple of soft laughter went around the room. “She will be missed,” Santa turned and gave Zoey a hug. She smiled and hugged him right back.

He continued, “But, on a happier note, this opens up a new opportunity for the right elf. I have thought long and hard about this. It wasn’t an easy decision. There were many good candidates, but one elf stood out. I’d like to announce that the new head elf will be Winky.”

A loud cheer went up around the hall. Blinky and Joey were the first ones over to shake Winky’s hand. After a few minutes, it quieted down and Santa said, “He will spend this December working side by side with Zoey, learning everything he can. Wish him well.”

As everyone started returning to work, Zoey said to Santa, “You made the right choice.”

Santa answered in his regular voice, “I know I did, I know I did.”

“He’ll make you forget about me.”

“Never.”

Winky approached the two of them. “Thank you, Santa,” he said.

Santa reached out to shake his hand, “You deserve it, Winky.”

“I know you said I’d start working with Zoey tomorrow, but I’d love to start now.”

Zoey laughed. “Fine by me,” she said.

Santa looked at Winky and smiled at Zoey. “Of course, of course.”

The two of them smiled and started walking toward the workstations, Winky already asking questions.

Santa felt better than he had in weeks. He knew he made the right decision.

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Satisfaction

This morning, I used a snow blower to clear my driveway instead of a shovel. Afterwards, I commented that using a snow blower isn’t nearly as satisfying as using a shovel. It’s a true statement, but, for some reason, struck me as a little odd after I’d said it. A snow blower and a shovel get the same results. Why would one be more satisfying than the other?

Before getting into it, I should point out that I’m talking about a specific sense of the word satisfy. It’s about a feeling of satisfaction. It’s similar to feeling pride or contentment. It’s not about satisfying a condition. If you’re very hungry, any food will satisfy your hunger. But satisfying your hunger does not make it a satisfying meal in the sense I am talking about.

What are the differences between a shovel and a snow blower? The shovel is more primitive technology than the snow blower. It’s more difficult to use. It takes longer. Saying it this way, it seems the snow blower is superior in almost every way. But it doesn’t leave you with a sense of satisfaction.

Could that be the answer? Is inefficiency more satisfying than efficiency? I don’t think so. Getting lost or getting stuck in traffic are inefficient, but I don’t think anyone claims they are satisfying experiences. And it can be very satisfying to find a better way to do something. In some sense, practicing a musical instrument is more satisying as you learn to be more efficient on the instrument.

Could it be a technology thing? Is it more satisfying to use less technology? Again, I don’t think so. In my experience, finishing a video game is satisfying. So is changing a tire. I’ve never done it, but I would imagine that inventing a new technology is immensely satisfying.

Perhaps it comes down to difficulty. More difficult things might bring more satisfaction than less difficult things. This seems closer, but still not quite right. It is true that work can be satisying. It is also true that if something is too easy, it tends not to be satisfying. But I don’t think it is the difficulty itself that translates into satisfaction. There are plenty of difficult things that provide no satisfaction whatsoever.

I think satisfaction is really our internal reward for accomplishing something. It doesn’t matter if other people know what we did, it’s enough to be able to say to yourself, “I did that.” It doesn’t really matter how efficient you were or what kind of technology you used. But the effort put in does matter. I think the reason I find shoveling more satisfying than snow blowing is because in one case I’m doing the work and in the other case a machine is doing the work. After I’ve shoveled my driveway, I can say, “I just shoveled my driveway.” After I snow blow, I’m more likely to say, “My driveway is clean.”

This seems to be true for other ways we can be satisfied. A home cooked meal is more satisfying than something out of a can. Taking care of your kid is more satisfying than dropping them at daycare. I’m sure you can think of your own examples.

I should add that I don’t think I made the wrong decision by snow blowing rather than shoveling. It’s true I lost out on some satisfaction, but I had stuff to do today and it was the kind of snow that causes serious injuries. Satisfaction can’t always be the goal. But it’s nice if you can get it.

While we’re on the subject, here are a couple of songs to listen to.

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The First Snow of the Season

We had our first snow of the season yesterday. That’s always an occasion worth marking. I’ve been waiting patiently for almost nine months and here it is. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as a new baby, but it’s exciting all the same.

The thing is, even though it’s exciting, the first snow of the season is also almost always disappointing. The snow we got with this storm certainly was. It started off as snow, changed to sleet, then rain, then a rain/sleet mix, stopped completely for a while, then more snow followed by more rain. They’re saying we may get another inch or so overnight tonight, but it’s going to warm up the rest of the week, so it’ll all melt anyway.

That’s typical of the first snow of the season, at least here in southern New England. It’s not really good to play in, it’s quite difficult to shovel, and road conditions are atrocious. It’s not like a good January or February snow storm that covers the world in a blanket. It’s just a big mess.

The last first snow storm of the season that I remember being at all satisfying was the Halloween blizzard from eight years ago. That was a real snow. Unfortunately, it also took down trees all over the place and caused massive power outages. All the property damage took away from the wonder of the event.

Although I might sound like I’m complaining, I don’t want you to misunderstand me. The first snow of the season was exciting. For me, it’s the unofficial first day of Winter. I’m so happy to have it back. Now, hopefully, there will more and better snow to follow. I’m looking forward to a fun few months.

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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna – A Recommendation

Months ago, I read a book called The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. I keep thinking about the story, the themes, the setting, and, most of all, the characters. The book is historical fiction, an immigrant’s tale. It tells Stella’s story from just before her birth and childhood in Calabria, Italy, to her adulthood and old age in Connecticut. Stella is an intelligent and ambitious woman trapped in a culture that doesn’t appreciate those traits in a woman.

I don’t know why I didn’t write a review when I first read the book. I should have, but I guess life was just too hectic at the time. To make up for that, I want to recommend it now. This is a really great book. Stella, her sister Tina, and her mother Assunta are fantastic characters. And they provide a wonderful lens through which to see the past hundred years.

The book isn’t always an easy read. Most of the men in the book are pretty awful, especially by the narrator’s modern standards. There are some graphic depictions of abuse. But they aren’t gratuitous, they are necessary for the story. Even if it makes the reader uncomforatable at times, it’s worth it.

The novel is pretty spoiler-proof. The narrator gives away the ending in the opening. But this book isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey (and don’t worry, she doesn’t use cliches like that in the book). If you’re a reader, put this book on your wish list. If you know a reader, it would make a great gift. I know I’m glad that I got to know Stella Fortuna.

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Nieces, Nephews, Aunts, and Uncles

A little while ago, my brother pointed something out to me. He has two nieces and one nephew, but no way to refer to them as a collective. When talking about his brothers’ kids, he always has to say, “Nieces and nephew.” I had never thought of it until he mentioned it, but he’s right. There’s no gender neutral way to refer to nieces and nephews. For brothers and sisters, there’s siblings. For mothers and fathers, there’s parents. For sons and daughters, there’s children. There is no equivalent for nieces and nephews.

I can’t stop thinking about this since it was pointed out to me. But it gets worse. As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve realized that there is also no gender neutral term for aunts and uncles. I have three aunts and two uncles, but no easy way to refer to my parents’ siblings. It feels like there’s a vacuum in our language.

This lack of vocabulary has the obvious result of making our language more cumbersome. But what if a person’s parents’ sibling is non-binary? Or what if a sibling’s child is gender-fluid? There ought to be a way to refer to those relationships without applying (or misapplying) a gender to that person.

I’d love a way to make our language more nimble and inclusive. My first instinct is to try to coin two new words. That’s probably not going to work, though. First, I can’t think of anything that sounds right. And second, I don’t think I have the reach to get other people to start using them. Instead, I want to know if anyone has run into these problems? If so, please share your solution or workaround. It’s not much, but I can at least help to spread the answer.

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All We Need

Here we are with story number eleven in my twelve stories in twelve months challenge. The prompt this month was “All We Need” and the word count was 500. With such a short word count, I decided to write a children’s story. And since it’s November, I thought a Thanksgiving story would be appropriate. As usual, let me know what you think. Or, even better, if you know any little kids, read it to them and let me know what they think.

Sue woke up and stretched. It was Thanksgiving. She looked over at the clock, but the face was blank. She got out of bed and went downstairs to find her parents. They were in the kitchen talking quietly. “Mom, Dad, my clock isn’t working.”

“It’s not your clock, Suzie,” her mom answered, “the power’s out.”

“Oh no,” Sue said, “what about Thanksgiving?”

“We’re still going to have Thanksgiving,” said her dad. “Hopefully the electricity will be back soon. But we’re not going to have the turkey. We would have had to have it in the oven an hour ago for it to be finished on time.”

“No turkey!?” cried Sue. “But I love turkey. It’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving. It’s not Thanksgiving without turkey.”

“That’s not true,” said her mother. “We don’t need turkey for Thanksgiving. All we need is family.”

***

A couple hours later, Sue’s older brother Ben was talking to their dad, “But you said the power would be back soon.”

“I hoped it would be. It must be a harder problem than I thought.”

Ben asked, “What are we going to do?”

“We’re still going to have Thanksgiving here. I texted Mrs. Johnson, and they don’t have power either, so they’re going to come celebrate with us.”

“But what will we do?” Ben asked again, “Without power, nothing works. We won’t be able to watch football. How can we have Thanksgiving without football?”

“Easy,” said their father. “Maybe the power will come back on, but if it doesn’t, we’ll visit and talk and maybe play some card games. We don’t need football for Thanksgiving. All we need is friends.”

***

After the Johnsons arrived, everyone was gathered in the living room. They were munching on nuts and chips by candlelight and telling stories and jokes. The Johnsons’ daughter, Molly, sat up and said, “Mom, can you show everyone that Thanksgiving video you play every year?”

Mrs. Johnson said, “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t bring it with me, and without power, we can’t play it anyway.”

“But what about your phone?”

“No, Molly. It’s a long video and we don’t know when the electricity will be back. I can’t waste the charge on my phone in case we need it later.”

“Aw. That’s not fair. It’s a tradition, it won’t feel like Thanksgiving without it.”

“Sure it will. Think of all the people who don’t have what we have. Think of the poor people who have to work to restore our power. Be grateful. For Thanksgiving, all we need is gratitude.”

***

As everyone was eating their Thanksgiving dinner of pies and cranberry sauce, Sue was thinking. This wasn’t the Thanksgiving she had expected or hoped for. There was no turkey, no football, and no funny video. But the adults were right. She was surrounded by family and friends and everyone was full of gratitude. It was different, but it really felt like Thanksgiving.

“This Thanksgiving,” she said, “I’m thankful that we have all we need.”

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Third Parties

One thing that struck me when I voted today was a complete lack of third party candidates. Line A was the Democrats, Line B was the Republicans, and Line C was write-ins. That was it. It wouldn’t have made a difference in my vote. I was going Democrats all the way (perhaps this is a subject of a future essay, but I really feel like any vote for a non-Democrat right now is a vote for Trump). I know this was a local election, and third parties are more common in the national elections, but it got me thinking.

I don’t like third parties. There are all the usual reasons about them playing spoiler. The data shows that Hilary Clinton would have won if a bunch of liberals hadn’t voted for Jill Stein instead. It really looks like Al Gore would have won if not for the leftists who voted for Ralph Nader. And there’s a chance that George Bush the First could have won a second term if not for Ross Perot. Two of those results were bad and one was good, but they were all frustrating since there will always be the suspicion that the majority of Americans didn’t like the result of the elections. But this is only scratching the surface of why I don’t like third parties.

There are two main reasons for my dislike. The first goes back to how I started. Where are the third parties in local elections? I know they do pop up occasionally, often it’s a disgruntled primary loser who couldn’t take the hint, but that’s about it. There is no concentrated effort on the part of third parties to get a foothold. If the Greens or the Libertarians actually cared about making a difference, they would put up candidates for school boards and town councils rather than wasting everyone’s time (and potentially thwarting the will of the people) in the presidential races. If they can’t care enough to try*, I’m certainly not supporting them.

The second reason why third parties bother me is that they don’t do anything to differentiate themselves. There are dozens of third parties out there, but the two most prominent third parties in the US are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. The Libertarian Party is no more than the Republicans without the evangelicals (again, probably the subject of a different essay, but they treat their pet economic assumptions with religious fervor, so they’re even less different than the Republicans than it seems). The Green Party is no different than the Democrats. I don’t even have a qualifier for that. They’d probably tell us that they center environmentalism more that the Democrats, but the policies they support are pretty much the same. Then, there are parties like Working Families. They don’t even run their own candidates most of the time. They just take a Democrat or Republican and put them on their line of the ballot. A person can vote for Working Families, but in doing so, they are just supporting the Republicans or Democrats. I see no point in having more parties just to have more parties. They have to find a way to be real alternatives before they’re worth taking seriously.

Trust me, I understand the frustration with the two party system. I completely get why someone would dislike both the Democrats and the Republicans. I certainly don’t agree with either of them on many, many issues. But I live in the real world in which we usually cannot vote for the best. We have to settle for the better. Third parties are not better. And they won’t be better until they figure out how to build from the ground up and find a way to separate themselves from the Republicans and Democrats. I’d love to see a real third party, one that presents a viable alternative to the Democrats and Republicans that at the same time takes itself and its issues seriously. I just don’t have a lot of faith that we’ll see one any time soon. In the mean time, I’ll keep voting for Democrats. They may not be perfect, but they are definitely better than the (sort of) alternatives we are presented with.


*It’s possible that they do care, but just simply don’t understand how the world works. If that’s the case, they have my sympathy, but I’m still not voting for anyone who is that clueless.

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