Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breed-Specific Legislation: From Fame to Fear

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to specific breeds of domesticated animals. In this post, I will be using "pit bulls" as the case in point arguing why breed specific legislation and its implications are not only misplaced, but also harmful and can serve as a gateway for other policy actions. There are many jurisdictions which enforce BSL on pit bulls, including Denver, Malden, and even my home province Ontario.

The term "pit bull" is a generic term used to describe any breed of dog which share physical characteristics to the commonly known profile. In actuality, "pit bull" includes many different breeds, but is generally any type of dog breed which has derived from the cross-breeding of bulldogs and terriers. This can include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Straffordshire Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and so on. There is a lack of clarity on how many "pit bulls" there are, since the name is ambiguous, and many people choose to avoid registering the dog as in some cases it can lead to increased insurances and other burdens for the pet owner. This being said, I would normally provide an estimate of the number of "pit bulls," but because of the ambiguity of the term, I won't bother.

An American Pit Bull Terrier. The build is almost sickening.
The "pit bull" as we know it is classified as weighing anywhere from 35 to 65 pounds, although there are many outliers, as there would be with most dog breeds. They are characterized as having high strength, endurance, stamina and "work ethic." This all adds up to a very strong, resilient dog that can be quite dangerous if provoked. The key word here is "provoked." For now, however, I should review some common misconceptions about pit bulls. Before I continue, I would like my readers to take any statistics - even those supporting my position - with a grain of salt. It will give averages and statistics for a "pit bull" breed, but as I have explained above, such a description is very misleading, as experts may not even agree on a dog's particular breed when it comes to "pit bulls."

One is that the pit bull has a locking jaw. This is commonly refuted, as there is no locking mechanism in the dog's jaw. The next step would be to allude to the dog's high bite pressure, which is allegedly higher than any other dog breed as measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Studies, however, show this not to be the case. One commonly cited source is the test done on National Geographic by Dr. Brady Barr, which found that the pit bull bite PSI is lower than other strong, common dog breeds - namely the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler. The Rottweiler had a bite force of 328 PSI, the German Shepherd 238 PSI, and the pit bull 235 PSI. As a comparison, humans have a bite PSI of between 150 and 200, hyenas ~1,000 PSI, and crocodiles ~3,700 PSI. In the study provided, the pit bulls were largely outmatched by Rottweilers in terms of bite PSI, and were just barely outmatched by German Shepherds, although the results for the German Shepherd were one of the lowest compared to other findings.

But the basis for support of BSL is not in how strong a pit bull's bite is, but how likely it is to use that bite in an unprovoked situation. A 5-year study conducted by Sacks et al. from 1989 to 1994 found that in all dog fatalities where breed was identified a total of 84 deaths, 29% of the attacks were by pit bulls. A superior study conducted from 1994 to 2009 by Bini et al. found a similar result. Of 82 attacks where breed was identified in a Level I Trauma Center, 35% of the attacks were by pit bulls. Such studies found that many of the attacks were unprovoked. If pit bulls are not a dangerous breed, why is this happening?

There are numerous explanations for such a trend. One is the behavior of pit bulls prior to an attack. Most animals, when provoked, will show a warning sign prior to any attempt to attack. Most dogs will growl, show their teeth, bark or lunge forward in an attempt to intimidate their perceived threat. Pit bulls do not typically show any such signs. This can make prevention more difficult for pit bulls because it can be impossible to interpret when the dog feels provoked. This also explains why it may seem that pit bulls disproportionately attack when not provoked. The reason pit bulls exhibit such behavior (or lack thereof) is because of what they were bred for.

Dogs, typically, win a competition by intimidating the other dog, or by hurting the dog through biting, but not severely maiming them. Pit bulls were raised specifically to compete violently. Owners of pit bulls wanted to breed the toughest dog they could, and so competitions were held. Pit bulls were pitted (I make these puns a lot) against each other in the ring (often with the owner in the ring with them) to fight as viciously as they could. The dogs that emerged victorious were bred to preserve their genes. This type of inbreeding is seen in almost all dog breeds. As an example, Shih-Tzus were selected for their likeness of a lion for Tibetan royalty. They are not a naturally occurring type of dog. Pit bulls were selectively bred for their strength and optimization in inter-dog conflict.

Rin Tin Tin with starring actor Lee Aaker as "Rusty."
Another factor to consider is breed popularity; let us blame Rin Tin Tin. From his first appearance in the early 1900s and then the airing of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin in 1954, demand for German Shepherds skyrocketed as Americans saw an increase in desire for the loveable crime fighter. At the same time, after the ownership of German Shepherds increase after this year, German Shepherds seemed to make their way as being one of the most dangerous dog breeds. The reason for this is that when a dog breed becomes popular, and there comes high demand, the dogs are often bred very improperly, and by inexperienced owners. While it is true that German Shepherds have been selected for higher intelligence via selective breeding, there has been controversy over how the dogs have been bred, and these faulty practices can lead to many physiological issues. Given all of this, what sparked the recent demand for pit bulls?

A fun fact: pit bulls are the only breed to have been featured three times on the cover of Life Magazine. Pit bulls were popularized by the military and by tough guys everywhere because of their appeal as being a strong, resilient guard dog. This creates a profile, and as with all profiles, people will associate pit bulls only with what they commonly see, and thus the most common purchases of pit bulls became people who wanted an unstoppable force standing beside them. A study conducted by Barnes et al. in 2006 found that possession of a "high-risk dog" could serve as a marker for criminal behavior. It was found that "high-risk" dog owners had ten times as many convictions as "low-risk" dog owners. The results were upheld by similar studies in 2009 and 2012.

So if the public is purchasing pit bulls for the purpose of having a dog which is strong, vicious and unwavering, the selective breeding which poisons domesticated dogs is most certainly going to meet up with the pit bull. If owners want pit bulls to be the dogs they have seen them to be, then they will become that; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Government bans Pit Bulls? Get a Rottweiler instead!
But this is not a predetermined fate for pit bulls. It is undeniable that proper socialization and care in a dog's youth can produce a very friendly, loveable pet. Perhaps, then, it is only obligatory for us to, when buying a pit bull, be aware of their need for special care and give them more attention and socialize them more than we would for another dog. A pit bull's potential for danger is not enough to warrant BSL. If a human being wants to raise an unstoppable breed of dog for purposes of fighting or guarding, then they will do it with whatever breed they can get access to. As we see above, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are very exemplary candidates. The study conducted by Barnes et al. also examined other "high-risk" breeds such as Akitas, which could also be exploited.

We can't justifiably enforce BSL because BSL does not get to the core of the problem. It's a temporary band-aid for an issue which has existed for centuries - humanity's selfish tendency to breed domesticated dogs in such a way that is unhealthy and dangerous for both the dog and the owner. This is a trend that will not cease, and no amount of scape-goating in the media and public is going to rid us of that burden. The hasty profiling being made in these cases is akin to other discussions relating to genetic determinism for behavioral traits, except in those cases, as it pertains to races of humans (search for the areas discussing MAO-A. The ensuing discussion, organized for easiness to read, can be found here).

Thank you for reading.



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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Steven King's "Why We Crave Horror Movies"

Forwarded from a friend's blog.

---

I read Steven King’s essay upon asking myself that very question: Why do people crave horror movies?

Why is it that most people don’t want to be scared, yet at the same time, they pay to get scared?
King provides 3 answers to this question:

1) It reminds us of how much better we are - we’re prettier than the Frankenstein Monster or Leatherface, and nowhere near as insane.

2) It’s a way of “daring the nightmare”, as King put it. We face our fears in the theater to prove to ourselves that we can face those fears.

3) We go to have fun… or, basically, we’re all, secretly or otherwise, insane.

Pretty outrageous claim, right? But of course, a half-decent writer would explain his claims, and thus King continues with his explanation.

King describes our tendency to scare ourselves as a way to “feed the gators”. In essence, our minds have a trapdoor, which underneath has a moat with hungry gators. This is the representation of our insanity. In order to keep the gators there, and not out where everybody else can see them and are threatened by them, you have to throw them chunks of raw meat (in the form of watching horror movies or telling sick jokes).

We all have certain degrees of insanity. Some of us go around and kill random people. Some of us strip naked in the streets. Some of us have engaging conversations with people that aren’t really there.
But those are the ones we lock in the funny farm.

I shall continue, though, while my mind situates itself in song.

[They’re coming to take me away, haha, they’re coming to take me away hoho, hehe, haha, to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time…]

The rest of us just very occasionally talk to ourselves, pick our noses when nobody is looking, make funny faces, hold to our irrational fears, etc.

So insanity is a degree, but we all have it. Some people have gators running rampant in their mind, while others keep them down… or they’re just good at hiding the gators.

[… and I’ll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, and they’re coming to take me away, haha…]

He goes on to compare seeing horror movies to the olden times when, if you had some time on your hands, you’d take your wife and children to relax and unwind, talking to each other like a true family, all the while enjoying a nice, cozy picnic at a public lynching.

So, King’s point is that we’re all truly crazy, and that we just need to occasionally see a horror movie so we can keep our insanity down.

I have a response to this, though:

[… to the happy home…]

Anyone who can create spine-chilling novels or seat-clenching horror movies that, according to King’s logic, would keep people’s insanity down in the depths of the moat under the trapdoor, is in no position to judge the degree of sanity (or insanity) of other people.

I’ve already received this argument though:

"Steven King would probably be the first person to say: ‘I’m the craziest one in this room!’, but he still has a point."

Maybe King would. I would have to agree with him in that case. But there’s an error there.

You don’t let insane people tell you who other insane people are.

"Why, (insert blogger’s name here)? Wouldn’t insane people be the best source to go to if you want to find out if someone else is insane?"

No, simply for the fact that they’re insane. They are not of a rational mind, so how can an irrational person think rationally to tell you who else is irrational?

Do you get it? They’re crazy, you don’t let them advise you for anything.

"Okay then, (insert blogger’s name here), then why don’t you try telling us why people go to see horror movies if they don’t like being scared?"

I’m glad you asked, voice from nobody ever!

[… with trees and flowers and chirping birds…]

When you go to a horror movie, and it ends with the typical “everyone dies the end” (cough Little Shop of Horrors, And Then There Were None cough), do you either:

A) Clap and buy the DVD; or,
B) Say: “Well that was stupid!” and possibly consider getting your money back?

If you answered (A), chances are you really are crazy.

But if you answered (B), as I did, then you can move on to my proposal.

I think that people go to see horror movies to prove that their fears aren’t much to be afraid of. The ones who are reading this, we don’t like it when the horror wins at the end, because then it shows us: “Well, there’s no stopping that mother-“

But if we see a movie where the monster, horror, fear, etc. is killed, defeated, overcome, etc., then we like it. Why?

Because it proves to us that the horror can be defeated, and therefore, it is not as scary as it used to be. That’s how much Hollywood has an impact on us.

My girlfriend, who apparently has a very keen sense of reality, brought up an objection though. You might be able to already guess what her objection was if you’re like her, but here it is:

Hollywood horror movies are simply made up. The solutions, like killing a werewolf with silver bullets, or a vampire with a wooden stake to the heart, are just made up, and if (by some unfortunate chance) we were to encounter one of those things in real life, there is no real evidence that either of those methods would work.

I had already considered that prior to her prompting its response, and I’m proud of that, because that means I still have a grip on reality as well.

Let me put it this way:

If you were to encounter a vampire in real life, and you could pick only one of two options, which would you pick to fight it:

1) A shotgun; or,
2) A bottle of holy water?

Even if you picked (1), you probably considered grabbing (2) for a second. Now let me switch the position. If it were a serial killer, which of those would you pick?

You picked the shotgun, or you’re crazy… or just an idiot.

Regardless of any logic or reason against it, Hollywood has had a great impact on how we see our fears to the point that we’d actually consider chucking a bottle of holy water if we were to face off with a vampire.

That’s my evidence behind my reason for why we see horror movies - we want to make those horrors look pathetic, or at the very least, able to be overcome.

I would crush the hopes and dreams of all people preparing for the zombie apocalypse if I were to tell them that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that shooting a zombie would kill it, or even slow it down.

This is how much we’ve been affected by Hollywood horror movies, and it’s why, I believe, we continue to see them. We’ve become believers.

Or we, including myself, really are crazy.

[… they’re coming to take me away, hahaaaa!]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Signs of Maturity

I'm going to skip out on making an extended blog post and, instead, make a statement using recent events in my inner circle.

My dear best friend "Sam", who has been thus far the primary figurehead for Steel Owls, has decided that he will cease making videos and lectures on his YouTube channel. This may not seem like a big deal to an outsider, but what is contained in this story is more important than what actually happened.

Standing before a camera and making statements on controversial issues is not an easy thing to do, especially when you, early on, catch the attention of a wide variety of dissenting opinions and groups who stand for everything opposite to what you do. In other words, very early on, Sam caught the attention of people who would immediately hate him. He made one video on a sketchy topic, race realism, and this attracted the crowd of opposing views (the race realists). After about a month, one figurehead for race realists made an excessively long video in response to him. Sam made another video in response where he refuted the arguments, and then stated he would probably not make another video response if the debate continued. About a month later, the other guy made another video response. Now Sam has decided to abandon his channel. It seems obvious why, right? It would be hasty to make that decision, though, without hearing what Sam had to say in his "Signing Off" video.

Sam has recently discovered that he could very well have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be very taxing on the mind and body - they can cause muscle aches, indigestion, loss of sleep, panic attacks, and much more. The stress he got from these online arguments ended up taking time away from his work, family, friends, and girlfriend of over 2 years. Based on this, and the medical implications, Sam decided it would be best to abandon his channel and avoid debates and drama on YouTube. I'd say this is a sound decision even without a medical condition.

Here's a thought that popped into everyone's mind, though: if he's having anxiety problems from this debate, it means he's either emotionally invested in the debate, or he knows he lost, or was proven to be dishonest. To everyone, including myself, this would be a reasonable conclusion. He could've simply made up the fact that he was originally planning to respond. As I've discovered, this couldn't be further from the truth.


He shared with me the script he would've used to make his response video. It's a work in progress, and when a person sends him a private message asking a question about the debate, he takes his replies and adds them to the script appropriately. I read it, and I was absolutely shocked. The script wasn't just a substantial, sufficient response. Had he actually made the video, he would've absolutely killed the opposing arguments.

Had he replied, it would've been the end.

So, why didn't he do it?

- For consistency.
- For his health.
- For the people he cares about.
- For his work.

To me, such a resistance of temptation and definite victory for the reasons listed is one of the greatest signs of maturity.

But let's be fair. What responses did the dissenting voices make?

- Derogatory videos.
- Ad hominems.
- Condescending comments.
- Skepticism over whether or not he really does have anxiety issues.

In reality, it's pretty obvious who won this debate.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Social Autonomy (Dad's Work)

Our high ones rant
We lowly ones take the lynchings with grace
What choice do we have but to crawl along eggshells
When the head of state rubs his greedy hands together?
His agenda fires up sirens.
The end draws near.
As the drum beats its tum, tum, tumtumtum, tum, tum,
The artists and visionaries will rise from their stupor
As heads bash to pieces of concrete
The artists ride on the new vibe
All the police in the nation hide in their pockets
The moon is rising.
Wisps of coffee smoke fill the night time air
Battle plans are drawn.
The voices shake the microphone.
Music is reborn
A new dawn is coming.
Discipline is redundant.
And as the owl hoots in the cold light of the night
The artists and visionaries, writers and painters, set their tools aside
And they save the robots from deletion as these organizers try to control the world
Without a thought of the consequences of dampening progress.
We are coming.
It's time to shiver.
That's right.
Hear us.
No discipline.
Control is now grey.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

If You Are, Don't Say It

Something remarkable happens to come true when somebody says they are something.

I hear many people claim to be many things. It doesn't matter what it is, though (unless it's some kind of empirically definable feature, such as being a lawyer). When somebody says that they are something, that they believe something, that they practice something, it usually just never comes true.

If a teacher has to repeatedly say: "I'm going to teach you how to think critically", chances are you're going to be thinking remedially.

If a person says: "I believe in being intellectually honest", then they're probably biased.

If a person has to tell you: "I seek truth", well...

The moral of this story is that if you are something, you don't need to say it. If I told somebody I'm punk, they would probably take my attitude as being completely fake.

Prove your policy with actions, not words.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

One Meaningful Day in the Past

The night of Independence Day was blissfully warm, with a slight breeze feathering my hair so it tickled my cheek. We had just returned from a free show at the Music Pier and had with us about a dozen close friends and fans who wanted to celebrate the night with us. Plenty of fireworks, plenty of people.

With me I had a friend whom I had known for quite some time now. His tender smile was reflecting the moonlight toward me, and I tried to meet its warmth. This was almost impossible.

We returned to my home to find my mother had just left, but my father was still there. He looked at us, knew our plans, and so waved his hand in dismissing approval, shaking his head with a smirk. We laughed and proceeded to bring out snacks, order pizza and organize lawn chairs on the boardwalk behind the house. After all was prepared, I told my friend I would be back in a moment, and walked up to the balcony.

My father walked onto its white stone surface soon after, looking at me with a slight smile.

"So, is that him?"
"Hehe, yeah."

He leaned next to me on the rail, looking down at our friends, no doubt searching for him. After finding him and studying him for some time, he spoke:

"A bit wild, but I approve."

My face began to blush.
"Haha dad, it's not like that, we're just friends."

His head turned toward me, and he was looking at me with a crooked look of curiosity.
"Just friends?"
"Yeah, at least for now. Not yet."
"Why not???"

I wondered why. I wondered what was keeping me from just saying something.

We now live at a far distance from each other, and he and his girlfriend's second anniversary is drawing near. I guess time told its intent, and I'm okay with it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why Original Thoughts Don't Exist

Because every sign of race leads to King.

Because every sign of totalitarianism leads to Orwell.

Because every sign of love leads to Romeo.

Because every sign of love leads to Juliet.

Because every sign of peace leads to God.

Because every sign of sin leads to Satan.

Because every sign of battle leads to Tzu.

Because every sign of intelligence leads to Einstein.

Because every sign of rhyme leads to Seuss.

Because every sign of poetry leads to Shakespeare. (It's wrong anyway.)

Because every sign of fear leads to Roosevelt. (It's wrong anyway.)

Because every sign of hate leads to Gandhi. (It's wrong anyway.)

Because every sign of determination leads to Edison. (It's wrong anyway.)

Because every sign of socialism leads to Hitler. (It's wrong anyway.)

Because every sign of originality...

Leads to Frost.

Well aren't you wrong and an idiot for saying that?

Original thoughts don't exist because everybody is so tempted to quote, to reference, to cite, to prove their vast knowledge of all things that we had hammered into our brains before the age of 18.

And not a single person cares.

And not a single university discourages it.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Marketing

For those that aren't aware, I record music occasionally. Most of it is orchestral piano/violin music (with some other added goodies from guests).

Recently I passed out some samples of my upcoming album (WIP) to my friends and family to see what everybody thought. My sister Serena, step-brother Sebastian and best friends Nick and Mykala told me I should start marketing my music; selling the albums on iTunes, looking for advertisement, etc.

Being a 20 year old college student, this is attractive at first thought. I could use extra money for tuition, a car, an apartment, food, clothes, music equipment, books, you name it.

But I always wonder about marketing. My music is good. Whether or not it's good enough to make money and fame is a different question, but it's an irrelevant question.

I don't want it to be anyway.

The world needs music as much as it needs literature in the form of a physical book (you'll find I'm avidly opposed to eBooks) or as much as it needs grass. If I can give the world music without it costing a cent, then I feel every obligation to do so.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Wow You're a Hypocrite

I'm talking to myself in the title.

I had a dream last night, where a young girl (as I supposed by their voice) without a face or any discernible features aside from a single hole in the center of her face appeared to me. She called herself "Ulaen".

We sat in a cafeteria eating lunch as the janitorial staff cleaned the tables and prepared for the next rush, which would be at dinner time. Ulaen looked (I think) off into a lounge area and watched one of the women wipe a table clean. I looked too, but then she asked me something:

"Why is that woman talking to herself?"

I noticed that indeed, the woman was talking to herself. From her face, I could tell she most likely had Down's Syndrome.

"I think she's mentally impaired."

"What makes you say that?" she asked, seeming surprised at my assumption.

"Well, based on the fact that she's talking to herself, and the way her face is sort of shrunken in, which is typical of people who have Down's."

Ulaen tilted her head. I didn't know I was in for an interesting conversation.

"Don't you talk to yourself?"

"Well, yeah, I think all people do sometimes, but not extensively or in public."

"So, based on the fact that she looks different, and because she talks to herself with less restraint than you do, you think she's mentally deficient?"

"Well," I sighed, "I get what you're saying, but there are other characteristics that go with it. Sometimes they can only perform simple tasks, and sometimes they're only really capable of comprehending complex thoughts."

Ulaen made a noise that sounded like a smirk.

"So, because she looks different, talks to herself without restraint, and thinks in a different way, she's mentally impaired. That's what you're saying?"

I looked at her with regret. "Okay, fine, you've made your point."

But she didn't. I got up to throw my trash, waving for Ulaen to follow, but she didn't. She stayed at the table and didn't move. Soon, the woman we were having our discussion about was at our table, cleaning it.

Ulaen turned to her, "Hello, how are you ma'am?"

"I'm doing very well, thank you. How are you?" the woman replied.

"Great, thank you." Ulaen replied with a smile.

She walked away and led me out of the food court. "She doesn't seem mentally deficient."

We continued outside into a plaza, but she still wasn't done. She began waving to random people, saying the same general thing each time: "Hello, how are you?" "Hi, how are you doing?"

Nobody gave her a response.

"Look, Ulaen," I said, feeling as though I hadn't explained properly, "there are things anatomically that would explain what I'm trying to tell you about that woman, but I just don't know enough about it to explain it in a way you would understand."

"So," Ulaen replied, "what you have just told me is that even though you don't know enough about her supposed ailment to make a proper, objective judgment, you have deemed her to be 'mentally impaired' because she looks different, thinks different, and talks to herself without restraint."

My eyes cast down.

"Do other people make the same prejudgments based on the same factors?"

They do Ulaen. They do.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Journal Entry 12/3/2008 (Dad's Work)

12/3/2008

One thing that I always can rely on when testing social experiments in person is the unknowing compliance of my wife.

As I sat next to her in the hair salon today, both of us sitting in the chairs with those ridiculous metal domes (but only she was getting her hair done), I was reading the newspaper and saw a story about kids in a local middle school getting into a fight over race. The story painted the white child as instigating the black child, because the former mentioned in no specified context that the latter was, in fact, black. Whether or not this was grounds for the black child to punch the while child is another discussion entirely, but that's not what I want to say.

With the recent election of Barack Obama, I've heard constantly on the news that now we live in a "post-racial America". From the moment they began to say that, I already knew it was quite a load. The oppression still exists, the institutions are still strong, the only difference is that now, we have a mixed-race president. The other things didn't suddenly go away, and it seems to me that the people stating that this is evidence of a "post-racial America" are doing nothing but supplying more ammunition for microinvalidation.

I decided, however, that this was obvious, and I'd much rather make a more obvious point. I showed the article to my wife, who was now preparing to lower the dome, and let her look over it. After she finished, I asked her, "What do you make of this?"

She scanned over it again, then passed the paper back to me and said "Looks don't matter".

The irony almost made me sick, and the woman who was sitting next to my wife at the time gave me this look that I thought was understanding.

We still place emphasis on appearance. We can't look over the little things in order to place emphasis on something that is already huge.

A mixed-race president doesn't delete oppression.

-----

And there's still time, dad, and viewers.

Remember: We haven't had another Catholic president since JFK.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Devolution of Our Self-Direction

A while back I forwarded a post about self-directed learning. It got me thinking about how much of our learning process is reliant on our own initiative rather than what information is fed to us in our "schooling".

It never occurred to me until that point that the majority of what I know, now, that exceeds any fundamental understanding of basic concepts in conventional fields (in case I've lost you: two plus two, the cow goes moo, "you and I" not "me and you"), was self-taught.

Meaning, with the exception of basic algebra, basic grammar, basic basic basic, the rest of what I've learned was never taught to me. I taught myself.

So where am I going with this?

I continue to do these sorts of things even in college. Not just by Googling things, but by taking advantage of what I'm paying for. All of my courses consist of things I'm taking seriously: art, psychology, anthropology and global perspectives. They all require quite a bit of work, but I knew that when I signed up for the courses.

I asked someone the other day what some of their classes were. Aside from their major, most of them were pretty ridiculous (by ridiculous I mean a course on how to watch television. No, it doesn't teach the facets of consumerism).

I wish people would take their education (and their money) seriously.

How Do You Feel? (Dad's Work)

How do you feel:

When the model's come and gone

She'll talk to you but not for long

Because how could anyone like her

Feel something like that from you?


How do you feel:

When the tall suited guys flex their dollars

The visionaries come and soon they're martyrs

Because how could anyone like you

Stand up to someone like them?


How do you feel to be at the bottom of the food chain?

How do you feel to be lost in your one-way troubles?

How do you feel to be stamped by the Doctor's, Professor's, Noble's name?

How do you feel to be crushed underneath the rubble?


You're average, normal, mediocre square wavenothingspecial

But you try, try, again and again.

To prove that you're here.

To get them to hear.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Philosophical Unity

I've always been curious about something for as long as I've been doing this.

My friends and I have been in debates and arguments with racial realists on the internet. They try to justify their racism by claiming that their belief in a hierarchy of superiority has scientific backing. This is also known as "scientific racism".

Many of them make a comment that I find incredibly ironic: That philosophical arguments have no substance.

Yet, the foundation of their own arguments is in the reliance on philosophical unity.

Philosophical unity is a natural sense of connection a group of people feels when they are connected through their language, appearance, attitude, and aspirations. There are little barriers in western society between people who are native to that area, so it's easy for them to get along.

So to settle another argument, the fact that more diverse areas tend to have a lower amount of trust says nothing about diversity, but in the masses' general mistrust in others who aren't a part of their circle of philosophical unity.

Race (or ethnicity, but either way you're probably calling it the wrong thing) does not have any inherent importance. Neither does nationality, until you actively participate in it.

Self-Directed Learning

Forwarded from Nick's blog:


This is a response to a college prompt on “self-directed learning” and “flipped classes”.
——
I hear the word student and sometimes I feel the need to divide between a philosophical student (someone who is eager to learn whether in the formal setting of a classroom or not) and an official student (someone who sits in a desk and takes down notes without engagement), so I just divided them.

The idea of being a more self-reliant student — a philosophical student — has appealed to me since the beginning of high school. The article briefly talked about the use of averages, standards and comparisons as a mode for measuring how successful a student — an official student — is in their formal education. IQs, ACTs, SATs, GPAs, class ranks — they all just tell me one thing about the educational system, and that is that our system of education is more capitalistic than socialistic in its approach to helping younger generations achieve higher learning and self-reliance. We constantly compare, we constantly standardize- as if we could ever measure someone’s success, performance and intelligence through a single test, or a single standard number, that doesn’t change to adhere to the differences between us. As a teacher I had last year said: “In my several decades teaching at this school, and several years being a dean and getting to know all the students, I would say that I have not seen a single year where the valedictorian was actually the smartest kid in the class”.

We’re humans, not robots being manufactured on the assembly line, right? There’s no single way to measure how we’re all succeeding.

That being said, the idea of self-directed learning seems to appeal to the independence and autonomous erudition of every student — both kinds — that participates in the process. It’s aimed less to compare and contrast, more to hone the skills and abilities of each student as an individual and adhere them to the educational process to ensure that anyone, regardless of their differences or preferences, can learn, and subsequently break the bell curve of education and success. It’s less reliant on a standard set by the educator, and more so on the engagement and direction of the student. By this point, all students involved should be philosophical students.

Everything about the concept of a “flipped class” and self-directed learning sounds good to me, but here is where my pessimism comes in.

My first impression of “flipped classes” was a groaned: “Oh, another attempt at dividing the line between servile education and engaged, critical thinking/learning”.

I love everything about the concept, but I’m skeptical of whether or not it will actually succeed, or will even be attempted at properly. It’s been mentioned and discussed many times before, but it seems that nobody can figure out a way to work the system.

But I guess that highlights the issue, right? For self-directed learning, there is no “system”. It’ll be different every time, and there’s no guarantee that it will work.

Regardless, I’m looking forward to the try.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Three-Legged Dogs

There is a three-legged dog out there, whose master loves him very much.

This three-legged dog's name is Toby. This three-legged dog is completely normal. He runs, he jumps, he barks, and he plays like any other dog would. Children love to play with him. Most don't even notice that he's missing a leg.

Once, Toby went for a walk in the park with his master. As would be expected, a woman was sitting on a bench with her 5 year old son, who immediately noticed Toby and ran up to him. He began to pet and play with Toby, as any child would with any loveable dog.

Toby's master spoke to the woman for a while. Their conversation was very cordial, and nothing seemed wrong. Then, the woman took a glance over the man's shoulder and saw the space under the dog's body.

She then called out to her son:

"Sweetie, don't pet that dog. He's missing his leg."

The child stopped and looked where the space was. He waved his hand to ensure himself that the leg was actually missing, and that it wasn't just invisible. The leg was very much missing. The child began to cry. The man's heart began to enlarge, as he was under the impression that the child felt bad for Toby and his handicap. It then sank, when he realized what was really happening, after the child walked toward his mother, his hand buried in his own shoulder, with only one eye peeking back at Toby.

The boy was afraid.

Their conversation stopped, the woman walked away with her son's hand in her own, and they didn't look back.

There was no reason to be afraid of Toby. It seemed there was nothing different about him. So, why then, did the mother have to drop a pebble in her son's bowl of light and purity?

What purpose did this serve?

Why is this any different with people who are different?

Why does it hurt to be different?

Toby and his master walked back home, saddened, not understanding why what happened happened, but only that it did, and it would surely happen again.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Time's Illusion (Dad's Work)

If God made humans,

then why did he wait so long to make us?

What was he doing before that?

My only thought concerning this is:

If time goes on for eternity,

then maybe time has already gone on for eternity.

So at any point that God decided to make us,

it would've been after eternity

no matter what.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Beauty Is A Sin

A poem by my friend Val:

But not so softly did she walk through the silken mist
Ethereal, yet staid like stone
Always wandering, always staggering, always haunting through that sultry mist
Under bridges and street lights did she walk like stone
Touched only by sincere words, not by sincere hands
You know, she was never touched at all

In times of modern desire and passions afloat
Some things never seem to be noticed

And what worse than true beauty to not be noticed for

Sliding, staggering, stalking down wet cobblestone walkways
Into that solid mist of the crestfallen night
Never was she seen, never was she felt

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Imposing Morals

This is copied from Nick's Tumblr.
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I’ll keep this short and sweet for everyone so it takes less time to read, more time to think about.
Something I’m growing increasingly tired of: People in our country imposing their morals onto other people.

You will inevitably understand what I mean when you read the list and what they all have in common:

- Homosexuality
- Contraception/Abortion
- Prostitution
- Drug/Alcohol Use
- Polygamy

Some of you might have a jerk-back reaction to me equating homosexuality with prostitution and prostitution with drug use, but hopefully you’ll get the point in a second.

It takes quite some narcissism for somebody to decide that their own sense of morality, a sense of morality that many others may not follow, is so flawless and so necessary that they decide it would be best if that morality is imposed onto the people next to them.

This does not mean that in order to understand what I’m saying, you have to support or take part in everything I mentioned. For example: I’m not homosexual, I would probably never let my girlfriend have an abortion (unless it was necessary to keep her alive, or was a product of rape), I don’t agree with prostitution, I don’t do drugs or drink, and I think that single-partner relationships are hard enough to deal with (sorry sweetheart! <3)

But you don’t need to support or take part in any of these things in order for you to support someone’s right to do as they please.

Because unless you look at a single strict code of morals, the things I listed above are not inherently bad. (You could argue that abortion is murder, but you know what? Bodily autonomy. Look it up, and then shut up.)

So I may not agree with some of the things I listed above. I have my own code of morals, and yes, that might leave me in the position where I judge somebody because they didn’t adhere to my own inner sense of morals.

But that’s just it — it’s my inner sense of morals. They don’t need to know what I think, and I’m not going to flat out tell somebody who drinks that it’s wrong. I’m just going to choose not to associate myself with them as closely as I would with somebody who doesn’t drink.

It’s not about supporting the acts. It’s about supporting freedom, and not being so full of yourself that you impose your own morals onto other people.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Animal Crossing (A Cultural Sentiment)

I found something out recently that kind of surprised me.

Animal Crossing, a series of games that originated in Japan and was then taken to the west like most video games, features a character called "Booker" -- an English bulldog that seems socially awkward and withdrawn. His refined behavior is shown through his aversion to talking and speech disfluency. A first impression would just tell you that he isn't confident (which is ironic because he's a police officer/security guard in the series).

It actually originated in the Japanese version of the game. The canon description is that Booker was actually not a native Japanese speaker, and so he was self conscious about speaking Japanese in fear of messing up or using the wrong words and being made fun of or criticized for not speaking Japanese fluently.

The fact that he's an English bulldog might hint to the fact that his native language would probably have been English. They then kept that story as being canon when it was taken to the western market. I assume the reverse, if the first part were true, is that Booker's native tongue is now Japanese.

I think this is very telling of a few things. First of all, it shows that the appeal to sympathy used in the video game reveals a lot about some interests in Japanese culture. It shows that they, like us, are interested in showing that there are human aspects to people that seem "abstract", like foreigners who don't speak our language as fluently as we would like them too.

But secondly, and most importantly in my eyes, is that contrary to popular belief, Japan has a need to teach these things.

I have deep reservations concerning the world and how they perceive Japan, and it goes to a little bit of data that most people are aware of: That Japan is "98.5% ethnically Japanese", and would therefore be homogeneous.

This number is very misleading.

The truth is that on the Japanese Census, "ethnically Japanese" just means anyone who has permanent residence in Japan. That means that somebody from Britain who came over to Japan and obtained permanent legal status would classify as "Japanese", and not "Other".

Japan has millions of immigrants.

And with this bit of information about Animal Crossing, it seems that immigration is so existent, that they need to include these minor tolerance teachings in their common media.

I guess the important take away from this is not to project our understanding of ethnic division onto other countries. The Japanese don't really care where you're from, so long as you speak the language, or at least try to. I had no issues while I was there. If you're a legal citizen and contribute to their society, then by all means, you're Japanese to them.

It's something important that people should realize. We're not the only ones who deal with foreigners and immigrants. We're not the only ones that try to be tolerant. It happens everywhere.

Culture, however, portrays it differently, and thus when looking from the perspective of an outsider, you might not understand it.

I wish we (and the US) could, like many countries, simply adopt the standard for Census data to calculate based on nationality, and not "race/ethnicity" (especially since we've got those classifications wrong anyway). It would help with our racial issues, at least based on how it worked in Japan.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Writer's Block (Dad's Work)

Sometimes I sit; stare at the page.
Words fail to emerge.

This curse seems to afflict every creative soul,
And the endeavor becomes blurred.

I start to wonder if I have anything worth saying.
But of course, if I don't say it, how will I know?

It's nothing more, however, than a state of mind -- this dreaded "Can't".
It's just a wall.

There is a cure for this.

It sits comfortably upon the edge of a stained and rocky clifftop.
It looks out upon a world full of life and artistic opportunity.

It brings all the elements under the control of the creator.
It brings satisfaction in taking in beauty that others don't see.

It's something that all of us can conquer.
It's something that all of us have.
But something few of us wish to accept.

There is a cure for this.

Arrogance, used in the right mind.

If we can convince ourselves that the mountains can move by our written word, then it can be done.

So stop looking at that page, thinking "Can't".
Look at the page, and think "Pfft".

The Importance of a Friend

The importance of somebody that would stay up until 3 AM, even when they get up for work at 6, just for you;

Of somebody that never gave up on you, even when you gave up on yourself;

Of somebody that has been with you every step of the way.

The importance of somebody that moon walked eggshells in front of you;

Of somebody that wore whipped cream like a fez;

Of somebody that made you laugh, just for you.

The importance of somebody that never gave a damn what anyone else felt, and just held on;

Of somebody that asked you, just you, before doing things that you didn't even know you had a say in.

Of somebody that always put you above everything and everyone else.

The importance of somebody kind.

The importance of somebody true.

The importance of a friend, a single friend.

Well, now you know his importance too.

-----

And what's most important, to me, is that he knows who he is when he reads this.

And I'm sure he does.

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Because I Said So"

One thing I've noticed since I first moved into my new home here in Toronto is that I've yet to hear that phrase even once. Every time I've asked for an explanation for something, I've been given one, and have had no encounter with that dismissive, domineering catch-22.

Back in Ocean City, that was one thing I always heard. If anyone else has been in my position (I'd be hard-pressed to find one who hasn't), then you'd probably agree with me that not only is it incredibly disrespectful, but it's obviously as I said above: a method by which any person of authority can dismiss someone who questions them without answering the question, without even regarding that the question was posed, and yet still not look any weaker in doing so (at least to the unthinking masses -- I'm sure some people recognize it as a sign of weakness).

It made me feel like I had less value; that I didn't even have enough to deserve an explanation for something that I was questioning. I'll admit, sometimes I just asked "why" out of frustration or laziness, but I don't think I was ever that kind of child. All the way up until I was 19 (how old I was when I left Ocean City) I was very active, very ambitious, and typically wouldn't just ask questions with no particular reason. If I questioned something an authority did (specifically here I'm talking about my mom), I usually had good reason. Perhaps I noticed a contradiction, or just generally something that struck me as being illogical. Yet, I can still hear that phrase echoing in the canals of my ears. "Because I said so".

Now, I've yet to hear it once. I noticed it at one point, and decided to test it out. My uncle asked me to take out the trash (garbage day is Thursday in our part of District 3), and I just asked him "why?"

His answer?

"You're probably the only one in this house that doesn't gag at the smell. Besides, don't you usually do it, or am I thinking of your sister again?"

No, he was right, I always do it, and it doesn't make me gag.

I guess the point of all of this is to say that it feels nice to be valued, and not dismissed.

And I hope that if I have kids one day, I'll make sure to give them explanations. There are ways to establish your authority as a parent (and it's necessary, otherwise you're going to end up with too much of an autonomous child), but my belief is that dismissing the inquiries of your children as being not worth answering is not the way to do it. It leaves children angry, confused, and demoralized.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Humble Only to Nature

When it comes to human achievement, we can all very easily agree that there are no limitations in capability. If we ever come across something that can't be done (as Vinci did), rest assured at some point in time, the ability to do it will come about. Most of Vinci's ideas for inventions were impossible simply for the fact that the tools and parts needed for them to work had not been invented yet, and simply couldn't be made yet. Some might just call this "imaginative"; but remember, they happened.

While it is true to say that human beings have no limitations in what we can achieve, I think it's important to remember while we're strutting down the path of innovation, looking at all of the stuff that we've accomplished despite the odds and obstacles, we need to keep humble -- not to each other, but to nature.

But what do I mean.

There is a vague worldly definition of "natural" and "unnatural". If you want to argue that the "unnatural" is anything that doesn't occur automatically in life without interference, then you could argue that bird nests and beaver dams are "unnatural".

So, if that's the case, then cellphones, TVs, computers, and the lot are all "unnatural".

But I have my own definition for what's "natural". If you look at it in that way, then everything we do that exploits nature itself is still natural. We require nature in order to make all of the things I mentioned above. They require "natural resources".

So what's "unnatural"?

Let me put it this way:

As long as we stay on earth, we have no liberation from gravity. Sure we may have jet packs, planes, helicopters and so on to keep us in the air, but the entire makeup of those things were created around the bindings of gravity. They have to work with gravity already acting on them in order to work at all.

As long as we stay on earth, we have no liberation from the sea. In all our infinite wisdom and architectural ability, we have yet to create extensive civilization in the ocean. Note that our civilization typically ends at the shoreline. Sure we may create piers, but how far do they go before somebody says "okay, this is getting dangerous"?

As long as we stay on earth, we have no liberation from earthly things.

The "unnatural" would be if, in any case, those statements above were to become false. If we could somehow control gravity. Or the ocean. Or the wind.

But, if that is what's unnatural, then I believe that nothing can be unnatural.

Tesla may have moved mountains (you'll find I support liberal Tesla as opposed to conservative Edison), but had Tesla met The Storm face-to-face, would he have challenged it with his harnessed electrical energy, or would he back down and hope that he isn't struck by lightning?

Keep humble only to nature, because remember: Nature is the one thing that we, as humans, have to follow.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Journal Entry 6/13/2003 (Dad's Work)

6/13/2003

Something made itself apparent to me today.

I took 'lex to the aquarium in Atlantic City a few miles away. Both of us are very fond of marine life, but it seemed to me that we're usually burdened by having to observe them in free movement. There's no isolation, so it's hard to get an especially good look at any of them.

So, we went, and it being 'lex's first time to any aquarium, I thought the experience would be interesting. I tend to take a bit of extra time observing them, though, so I offered her the chance to roam around (It's also apparent to me that She rather dampens 'lex's ability to wander freely as a child should.) When I offered, however, she abstinently told me no, and refused to explain why. It seemed strange to me, but that's only one aspect of this story that is unique.

We went from tank to tank, taking our time to read about the fish and watch them make goofy faces seemingly at us. She laughed, of course, and I thought she was enjoying herself.

There's an elevator that can take you to the third floor there. It leads to a balcony that watches over the harbor and gives you a breathtaking view of the city in the distance. Sadly, I didn't bring a camera. I would've loved to staple a picture of that in this passage. So instead, we stood up there just to look. I lifted her onto my shoulders and pointed out the buildings, the badly painted cars, and what I thought to be a large catfish swimming in the harbor (Especially strange note, it seemed that the shadow of that catfish extended several yards away...). I asked her if she was enjoying herself, out of curiosity.

I never imagined, though, that she would give me the blatant "no" that she did.

I asked her why, and she told me very simply: "It's nicer to be with them when they're happy, and free."

I told her in an attempt to reassure her: "These fish couldn't be any happier than they are here. They're fed well and their tanks simulate their natural environment."

She retorted: "Have you ever seen a cat at the pet store paw at the glass?"

Damn her for being so smart, and at age 10...

And damn me for not seeing it before.

Needless to say, I'm taking her out tomorrow to dive.

-----

I think this is important for my first post. It came from one of my dad's journal entries that he wrote 10 years ago. I don't even entirely remember this conversation, but I suppose that even from a young age, I recognized the illusory freedom that fish in a fish tank have. It's so much more surreal to see those beautiful creatures in the open sea, which is ironic because that's the most realistic you can get.

I feel like in many ways, we live in much the same conditions. Our lives are never natural. There is always another hand poking its way into our environment, controlling the way we act and what we do. There is always someone above us making sure we keep ourselves in the cycle of economic power control that keeps the industry of human livestock afloat. Thus, we're merely fish in a fish tank -- being watched, being tricked, and being used for the entertainment and financial welfare of someone else.

Maybe I'm a cynic. Maybe I'm not. But if you dare to think about it:

Look over every single thing you do as part of your daily routine. Your actions, your job, your typical activities, etc.

Do the majority of those things result in the financial gain of another person?

I asked myself this once. Now, instead of going out to dinner for fun, I sit in one of the many trees that hang over my "backyard" and whistle with the music of the forest, sometimes strumming a guitar. Call it theatrical, but it's more liberating than most people could ever realize.