I Seem To Be the Only Person Bothered By This

I want to say right at the top, I have nothing against Greta Thunberg. I agree with her message. I’ve never met her, but I’m sure she’s a wonderful kid. I’m not talking about her because of her. She just happens to be the latest iteration of something that has bothered me for a long time. Why doesn’t anyone seem to care when children are exploited by adults if those people agree with the message?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read Hannah Arendt’s “Reflections on Little Rock.” It’s a controversial essay, to say the least, and I don’t agree with everything she said in it. But I do agree with one point she makes. She says that it is wrong to force children to be the ones to make changes that adults are responsible for. Essentially, she says the adults in 1957 were exploiting the Little Rock Nine. It was unfair to put those kids in that type of situation. I say that as someone who supports school integration and abhors racism. The events in Little Rock might have been good for society, but it was a horrible thing to do to the actual children caught in the situation.

Everything around Greta Thunberg reeks to me of exploitation. A kid simply can’t do the things that she is doing without powerful adults pulling the strings. That basically means that some adults decided that Ms. Thunberg is better in terms of marketing than they are and they’re using her to push their agenda.

It doesn’t matter if Ms. Thunberg actually believes in the cause and wants to help. There are child labor laws for a reason. We can’t just let kids do whatever they want to do. That’s one of the most important parts of being a parent. My daughter would love nothing more than to be a famous YouTuber, but I don’t let her post videos. It’s not good for a kid to be famous or to have the pressure of delivering content or the stress of being attacked by trolls. Ms. Thunberg has to deal with all those things and more. She’s definitely famous, she has the pressure of speaking at the UN, and she’s been attacked by the president among many others. None of those things are her fault, but they are the fault of whatever adults are supposed to be caring for her and all the people piling on the exploitation bandwagon.

It’s sad that almost no one sees the exploitation inherent in these situations. It doesn’t matter that I agree with the cause and want it to be successful. I feel terrible seeing a kid purposely exposed to the worst humanity has to offer. Exploiting children is bad no matter what. We need to stop doing it. There are a lot of problems in the world, climate change being a huge one. But these problems are our responsibility as adults. Stop making children pick up our responsibilities.

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Online Dating

About a year ago, I wrote a piece about how I was going on first dates, but none of them turned into second dates. I’d heard all these stories about happy couples who met online, but it wasn’t working for me. Some people suggested to me that the problem was that I was only using the free dating sites and you get what you pay for. Match.com was highly recommended, so I decided to sign up. I paid for a year’s subscription. Unless something dramatic happens in the next two weeks, it will have been a waste of money.

The only real difference between Match and the other sites I had tried was I could see who looked at my profile and who liked me. In theory, if I sent a message to someone who had been checking me out, there was a better chance of a response. That didn’t seem to be the case for me. I’ve had fewer first dates this year than I had last year. The only upside is that I actually did have two second dates this year. But neither one went anywhere. The first one, I accidentally ghosted. She sent me a note at a bad time, and by the time I got around to reply, like a week had gone by and it felt weird replying after a week. Since she also didn’t reach out to me during that week, I figured it wasn’t meant to be. The second one just told me she wasn’t interested after the second date.

It’s gotten me thinking that online dating just won’t work for me. Everyone says in their profiles that they don’t want a lot of texting. They want to meet, see if there’s a spark, and move on or pursue the relationship depending on whether there was a spark or not. I can’t move that quickly. I’ve discovered that I can’t tell anything from a person’s profile. A few pictures and a blurb aren’t nearly enough for me to form any opinion at all. A couple of messages back and forth doesn’t help much, then we’re on a date, then the whole thing’s over and I still haven’t gotten around to deciding whether I’m interested or not.

Never in my life have I looked at a woman and thought that I’d like to date her. I have to get to know her first. Online is not conducive to getting to know someone. Going on dates is a legitimate way to get to know someone, but so far I haven’t found anyone willing to go on a bunch of dates just so I can make up my mind if I’m actually interested in dating them. And I don’t see that changing.

Unfortunately, there really doesn’t seem to be any other way to meet people now. Giving up seems like the sensible thing to do. I should just adopt sad sack as an identity. It doesn’t cost anything and there’s no pressure. It might not make me happy, but it seems easier than a midlife crisis. But I’ll at least wait the two weeks. You never know.

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Sacred Steel for the Holidays by The Campbell Brothers

Many of you know that each year I do a holiday music binge starting the day after Thanksgiving and ending on Christmas day. It’s one of my favorite parts of December. This year, my favorite has been Sacred Steel for the Holidays by The Campbell Brothers. So, I wanted to share it with everyone.

The album is exactly what it says it is, a collection of eleven holiday songs done in the sacred steel style by one of the top performers of that style. For those unfamiliar, sacred steel is a style of gospel music where they use steel guitars as the lead instrument. Robert Randolph is probably the most famous sacred steel player. It has everything that makes gospel great, but with a twist. It’s the kind of music to get you up and moving and shouting along.

The secret to this album’s success is the joy it brings. It’s irrepressable. And that’s really what the holidays are all about. “Joy To the World” is not only one of the songs they do, it’s the message of the whole album. They also do a funky “Dreydle Song,” and what I think is the best “Little Drummer Boy” ever recorded.

If you want to be happy this holiday season (and who doesn’t want to be happy?), get your hands on a copy of this album. I would suggest going old school and getting the CD, but it is on Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube. You won’t be sorry.

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Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch

Caroll Spinney died today. He was 85. His death makes me awfully sad. He was the voice and puppeteer behind both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. I’ve been watching the two of them since before I knew there was any such thing as voice actors or puppeteers.

Like everyone my age, Sesame Street had a huge impact on me. I remember being really worried about Big Bird when he waited on the roof for Santa Claus and no one on Sesame Street could find him. I remember being tickled by the fact that everyone knew how nice Oscar was, except for Oscar.

When I did learn about voice actors and puppeteers, I was shocked to learn that Oscar and Big Bird were done by the same person. They just seemed so different from each other. It says a lot about Spinney that he was able to create two of the most important and iconic characters of my lifetime.

I found myself watching clips of Big Bird and Oscar online today. I can’t even explain how great they are. So, I just wanted to say a big, heartfelt thank you to Caroll Spinney. My life is better becaue of you.

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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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