Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I Don't Dance As Much As I Oughta

I say this a lot, seldom with fondness, but it's an amazing age we live in! Isn't it? Maybe I'm getting a skewed impression of who the "we" in that statement are, having a predominantly finger and thumb social life. That means internet and text message. I hardly ever go out here nowadays to see the real folks. You know the ones at the pub who are all being genuine and sincere...

Or maybe I just see what I see and take more notice of cherished peeves when I should be accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative. It could be... But am I the only one who thinks there are more people interested in improving their selfies than themselves? Am I? Am I alone in sensing the hollow in the happiness of the kids out there today?

Maybe it's just age but I find myself holding back just a bit on the dance floor when I share it with the cathartic flailings of the youth of today. Put me out there with my generation and I'll scare people! It's only in part to do with the music. Maybe it's crap or maybe I haven't given it time enough to associate as many good memories with it, but I sense a sadness in more than the simplistic predictability of today's music. I am reading a reason for catharsis that is unique to our youngsters. Anyone else getting this?

When I'm at a function or an establishment where there is a dancefloor and someone's jam comes on I reckon I see in the younger crowd just a little bit more "FTW!" and a little bit less "aw, WTF?!" in their joyful gyrations. Now, I don't think this is to say that the younger generation is more socially conscious and less escapist than someone of my, um, vintage. But maybe a little angrier. And a bit less connected.

If this is the case or not, I'd have to say they have every right to be angrier at a long list of things that people get angry about. Politics, education, employment, cost of living, corporatism, corruption, the environment, society... again, maybe I'm old but I see pretty much every one of these things as worse than when I was a youngster. But that can't be said without qualification. What does one mean when, for example, one says that society has worsened? There are a thousand tangents this narrative could shoot off at from here! But let's stick with the music for a bit, shall we? I've heard that music is the only thing that opens up our entire brains. And unless you're doing the Macarena or copying a Korean back-up dancer and counting the poses carefully, dancing comes from the heart too. So it's a spiritual vs. secular thing and I think that is the direction I'm heading with this.

Was it just the melody, beat, lyrics and musical skill that made our favourite songs our favourite songs? How big a role does setting play in our love of certain songs? I mean if I were listening to the song while drinking an extra tasty underage beer by a campfire with good friends, or while kissing my first love for the first time, or while experiencing the freedom of cruising with a couple friends fully licenced and unsupervised in my very own piece of junk car, would I love that song more than if I had just heard it in my room all the time? In my opinion, yes. No, in my opinion, abso-frickin-lutely! I guess what I'm offering is a musical "Nature vs. Nurture" argument here. And I am of the opinion that we don't just like a song the same from its birth until the thousandth time we've heard it. Unless it's "Let It Go" and we are a 7-year-old girl.

A LOT of my favourite songs, even singers and groups, had to grow on me. I didn't like Rush for the longest time! I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was a random, disorganized cacophony of musical mistakes when I first heard it. Yeah, I know! Crazy! I don't think Bohemian Rhapsody became one of my all time favourite songs ONLY because I heard it in memorable situations. My musical taste refined as well. I don't even remember the first time I saw a woman's breast. Probably the first hundred times or thousand times it was pretty much, "Meh." Boy did THAT change with age and (im?)maturity! I think that happens with music too. But I also speculate that there is some positive association that figures largely in which songs make us want to cut a rug and which ones make us want to put that rug into a blender and turn it up to 11.

I can list memory and song pairings till the cows come home. Some of the memories are good, some bad. Some noteworthy, some only noteworthy to me. I remember one song I kept hearing at the funeral of one of my favourite people. It's still makes me want to rend my garments at the injustice of the world every time I hear it. But it's a favourite. Then there's another that makes me think of just sitting in the sun with one of my favourite people. Not doing anything special but just sitting there being together. Then there are entire albums that make me think of summer in Penticton or smoking pot in a friend's car. There's no doubt these experiences add to the tunes' dance-ability. And I am pretty sure I think of some memories associated with those really great songs when I get up and WAYIND ME BODDEE to them.

Maybe what I'm asking is, what memories run through the minds of the youth of today when they dance to their favourite songs? Again, being old, I guess I have more memories and experiences attached to the various songs I dig. Just by pure opportunity to do things over the years! I think of the bus ride back from a rugby game on the road when I hear certain ZZ Top songs, for instance. Ahhh I can almost smell the A5-35... What do the youngsters think about when they get up and get their freak on to, I dunno, Coldplay? I could be reading the youngsters all wrong but I just don't think there's as much of a variety or, dog-gone-it, a flair in what's going through their heads when they dance. And I think they know this and it makes them feel a bit gypped.

We're robbing young folks of all kinds of memory making opportunities that we had. Sports are not as popular; clubs are going out of style, in fact the word just means a place where people dance now; scouts and guides - dangerous; summer camp - dangerous, church - dangerous, outdoor activities - dangerous; swimming - dangerous; just hanging out with friends - unstructured and unsupervised - dangerous; fishing - could fall in; golfing - could get struck by lightning; driving around - could crash and besides with the price of gas these days... No I think you should just stay in the house. Then when we get older and out of the house, we're too busy obeying our NEW masters: bosses and employers. "I can't enjoy some freedom with you or make a memory because I have to work late tonight or get up early for work tomorrow."

This is just my opinion but I think a lot of our favourite songs have to do with two things: freedom and togetherness. That's what opens up our minds when we hear them and when we get funky TO them. Freedom from parental supervision and structure when we're very young, and enjoyment of our freedom from parental and other social structure and limitations when we're older. Freedom ain't worth nothin' but it's free. Freedom it was easier when Bobby sang the blues. Freedom it was good enough for me. Good enough for me and Bobby McGee. Freedom ain't any fun if you don't share it.

Take a look around you sometime and see if it isn't true what Joe Rogan says, "We're nerfin' the world!" How many things are done for our protection whether we want it or not? And we need to be paranoid of damn near everything for the people who want to nerf the world to get away with it. So we have people scaring us about everything from terrorists to tooth decay. The thing is, if anything, the world is much safer today than it has ever been! But we're allowing ourselves to get scared so that people can add to the freedom-sucking structuring of our world. Someday this message will probably be erased as our internet freedoms are further limited "for our protection." I don't know about you but this doesn't make ME feel like dancing that much. And the memories associated with modern songs aren't all that great. But occasionally, when I hear a song that brings me back to younger and freeeeer times, look out on the dance floor!

But how can we stop them from taking our internet, (freedom)? Who is "them" and who is "our" in that question? As all problems do, it eventually relates to money, greed, capitalism, competition and individualistic thinking. I don't believe there is any question that the younger generation has been more successfully trained to be sort of glass half empty. That's not the right metaphor. More like ocean almost totally empty. Because they're not as pessimistic as individualistic. Our youth are "educated" to see individual drops as more important and powerful than the giant oceans that billions and billions of them can create together. They spend far more time alone; they are encouraged NOT to share because sharing limits upward mobility; humility is not as respected a virtue but is now viewed as a weakness; kindness is stupidity; giving is wasting; and the corporate training of the younger generation continues unabated so that they will grow up, consume, contribute, succeed, and go to their graves with the impression that they have enriched the very planet that they have impoverished by their actions.

I believe "them" includes only a few people. The few who really run the show on this planet with their mentally unstable, spiritually bankrupt manipulation, secularization, and de-unification of everything that used to make up our societies and cultures. The "our" includes me, probably you and those herky-jerky dancers of the younger generation. You will notice one other commonality to all the examples I've cited and that is none are done alone. This is another thing I've noticed that has scared me. Some kids get out on that dancefloor and get down ALL BY THEMSELVES! That's a tragedy to me! Dancing is meant to be a shared joy. So many things are that these sorry youngsters now do all alone! Chatting online is not the same as hanging out with friends. Calling Gramma is not the same as visiting her. Virtual football is not the same as REAL football. Nowadays a good little human can probably live an entire life without doing a single thing unregulated or unsupervised. Can you imagine the kind of disjointed dance moves THAT poor sucker would have?

It is our responsibility, nay, our DUTY to go out right now and hug a teen. High five a youth. Make eye contact with a youngster. Encourage some togetherness. Share! I have no doubt any more, having seen it first hand in what I erroneously consider to be "poor" countries, that the happiness that surpasses anything we can find in the "developed" countries is almost entirely because they spend more quality social time with other people. And MAN can these people dance!!!

Having already admitted to living a finger and thumb existence here, I have to take my own advice! Though my moves are pretty solid, they could always use a little tweaking...

“You must have chaos within you, to give birth to a dancing star.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Friday the 13th Indonesian Style

As mentioned previously here in my blog, Indonesia has its annoyances. It's not different from any place in that way, the annoyances are just different. In Korea my friend, Korea Maria, just got back from vacation to find her electronic door lock out of batteries or electricity so she had to stay in a hotel. I wrote in my Korean blog years ago about moving ALL my stuff and arriving at my home, sweet home, only to find it locked and nobody around with a key, had to unload my stuff on the ground outside my door. Furniture, computer, stereo, clothes so that the truck could be returned on time. Then it rained. If I recall correctly I eventually kicked in the metal, back door. Just slowly bent it to smithereens so I could fit through then opened the actual door and moved my crap in. I think Scott was helping me. Yeah, Korea had its annoyances too.

Incidentally, I remember when Maria started at Chonnam University. I didn't realize this but, man, that was 19 years ago! Holy MOLY! I said to some of my friends at the time, "No way she's gonna last here." She is still in Korea. Boy was I wrong about her! Way to go Maria! Hope your door lock gets fixed and your landlord springs for partial hotel payment. PPPFFFFAAAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA! I'm sorry. It's just impossible for me to envision any of MY Korean landlords doing something like that. Collectively they were to me one of the annoyances about Korea. Hope yours is better, Korea Maria. Like she's ever gonna read this...

Let's see here now, Maria's the one in the blue jacket looking strawberry blonde and bubbly. I'm the balding, bearded beefcake third from the left. What a great crew this was! I still keep in touch with some of them! Scott, right next to Maria looking dapper in pleated pants and polished pate, was the guy who helped me move and remains one of my best friends to this day.

But skip ahead 19 years... I've gotten used to small annoyances here in Indonesia. The internet being one of them is, as I type, it's cutting in an out bringing up the pink, "An error occurred while tying to save or publish your post. Please try again." message on Blogger. It's like a soothingly pink, flashing, Christmas light. Ahhhh, intermittent internet... so soothing! While Korea had a lot of annoyingly stupid things, like electronic doorlocks, that people mistakenly believed were superior technology, the internet there was above reproach! The providers were crooks, but the internet was BLAZING fast! I miss it a lot! I think my days on Earth will have all been worth it when I can look back at even these annoyances with fondness. I think I'll find enlightenment and be instantly vapourized and spirited up to Nirvana when I can deal with the kind of frustration chain that Fate hit me with today!

It all started on Thursday afternoon. I was over at Rica's place teaching her 5-year-old, Gabriel and she volunteered to help me buy a plane ticket for my latest visa run to Singapore. My 4th. Every two months since coming to Indonesia. Dang! That means I've been here 10 months already! Time sure flies! No, I'm not supposed to be teaching OR doing these visa runs every 2 months but I am sure nobody will read this who can bust me for it now. At any rate, she asked me when I wanted to go and I said as soon as possible so we looked at Friday, the next day. Then we looked at the calendar and I realized that Friday was Friday the 13th. Just to be safe I said I'd better not fly on Friday the 13th. Looking back now THAT was a silly thing to say. You'll see how silly...

Saturday was Valentine's Day and for some reason there were no good tickets for that day. Romantic travellers? Sunday I had to teach at my friend, Mr. Yoo's place and I didn't want to miss that. That's 2 hours and with the recent rash of cancellations from my various private students, I was in a tight spot financially. Sunday was the last day of paid classes for Mr. Yoo so I thought maybe he'd pay in advance for some more on Sunday. Then I'd have some spending money for Singapore, maybe buy a bottle of booze because it's cheaper than here in Indonesia, you know. Or just in case I had some trouble or extra expenses, it's always good to have a bit of extra dough.

So I chose Monday. Today. Well, since it's after midnight and this hellish day has come to an end, YESTERDAY. Rica got her employees to book me a ticket and she bought it with her credit card. This was surprising to me. I offered to pay for it but she said I could get her a bottle of perfume from the Singapore airport. It's the best place to buy it. So that instead of paying for the ticket. See, it hasn't been all bad. I have met some very nice people over here! Rica is awesome!

She knows that I can't easily buy tickets here for the same reason MANY of my annoyances are annoyances, because I don't have a KITAS, proper work visa. This is why it's illegal for me to be teaching, this is why I can't get a bank account, this is why I have been living for almost a year on the stuff I brought in two bags. Because I can't have my other belongings shipped without a KITAS. Oh they can be shipped, and I've paid for the shipment already, but when it gets to customs here they will not release it without my KITAS. Even WITH my KITAS I've been told to expect some shady shenanigans. They'll likely try to get a bit of a bribe. That's another of the annoyances of Indonesia. It's totally corrupt. But I've resigned myself to that as most people here have. In fact I was brought over by my original employer on a "business" visa, not a KITAS work visa. That was the genesis of all the misdealings and struggles I've had. And I didn't find out about it until just before flying here when it was too late to refuse on moral or legal grounds. I was assured that everybody does it and before too long I'd have the proper visa. Well it's been too long and I still don't have the proper visa. And 10 months of living illegally, being taken advantage of, working my ass off for below subsistance wages, being promised jobs and having them snatched away at the last minute, dealing with cancelling clients and the one stressor that has been the worst of them all: spending an eternity in Jakarta traffic in Jakarta taxis has taken its toll on me. I'm tired of this shit! I just want a steady job with regular hours and NO fucking taxi rides!

Well it's almost here. I've signed contracts with the people who brought me over here in the first place. See I had to leave my job there because the govenment busted them for bringing people over on "business" visas. I only worked there for two months. But now they have cleared things up with the government and they are re-hiring me AND negotiating me a proper KITAS. But it's taking a while. I signed contracts almost two months ago, had a physical examination, turned in all my paperwork and still no KITAS. I've been teaching my private classes and waiting patiently. Apparently the place where I got my physical exam is not reputable enough so the government may require a new one. That's where we stand now. So I had to renew my business visa once again.

So, Rica gets me a ticket for Monday the 16th. My last stamp was Dec. 16, two months ago. So I figure I'm good cuz the visa needs to be renewed every two months. I've GOT to stop saying that! It's actually NOT every two months, it's every 60 days. So, yeah, you know what's coming. At least you think you do, but you don't know the half of it. I go to the airport. It's usually a 130,000 rupiah taxi ride from my place. The price of gas has gone up so I was expecting a bit more. It cost me 170,000. That's about 17 Canadian bucks. Still pretty cheap for about an hour in a taxi. I check in and go to immigration and am promptly told that I have overstayed my visa. 60 days, not 2 months. So it's about 1:30 and my plane takes off at 2:30. I ask the guy what I have to do. He says it costs 300,000 per day and I've overstayed 3 days. I have about 500,000 in my wallet. Shit.

But, I had a friend of mine, Fitri, deposit some cash into my Canadian account for me last Wednesday. Again, no KITAS, no Indonesian account, so I have to get someone with an account to send money home for me, which is no mean task here. It takes a long time and is, for some unknown reason, a huge deal to Indonesian banks! Another frustration I deal with due to the lack of KITAS. Not to mention the people I rope into sending the money home for me. Fitri is a good friend and she's done it twice for me. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that! I need that to pay for my stuff in a storage locker in Victoria. My worldly belongings that I pay just over 100 bucks a month for. Nothing of great value but some stuff that is priceless to me.

So I go out of the airport and phone Fitri. No answer. Of course. Indonesian phones are as dependable as its internet. I don't know if her phone's working or if I can't reach her because the connection was dropped or what. So I try Devon, her hubby. He answers. So I ask if the money was deposited. He says yes. So I haven't got much choice. I need to pay the fine. I can always put in more later to pay my storage fees. Maybe hit Fitri up to do that one more time. Ugh. Nobody likes doing that and I hate to ask people to do it! But anyway, I go to the cash machine and am unable to get anything. Some machines here work and some don't. Another annoyance. So I try three or four of them but can't get anything from my account. It's half an hour till take-off and I can't get through customs. I call a couple people and gripe to them about my situation and receive an offer from my student Mr. Yoo to help out. Incidentally, Mr. Yoo was golfing on Sunday so he didn't pay me in advance like I was hoping. Otherwise I could have been out of this mess I was in. So Mr. Yoo offers to help me out if he can the next morning. By this time I had given up on flying Monday anyway.

So I decided I'd have to take Mr. Yoo's offer. So now I have to see what I can do, if anything, with my tickets. I have one from Jakarta to Singapore that was only about 40 bucks and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to do much with that since it's now almost in the air, but I might be able to get rid of the ticket from Singapore to Jakarta, which is Monday night and cost almost 100 bucks. I know, it's weird that one way would be such a different price than the other. Just part of the charm of Indonesia. Not the last time I'd deal with this odd phenomenon on this day either.

I go to the appropriate counter and ask if I can give back my tickets. The guy says no. I ask if there's anyone on standby who might want them. He says no. The flight is not full. I have yet to be on a flight to or from Singapore, especially a 40-dollar flight, that is not full. Like every other airline in the world, Air Asia sold MY ticket again, no doubt. But then I asked about my return flight, which was also Air Asia. He said the same thing. Here's the amazing part: he had no computer in front of him, he was not speaking from any position of up-to-date knowledge about the flights, he was just standing there being a dick. I wonder if I gave HIM a cut of the refund whether or not he would have gone for it. Indonesia!

So there's about $140.00 down the drain. Doesn't sound like much but in this little hiatus between jobs it IS a lot to me! So I now have to get home from the airport. It's about 3 PM so I should be able to just miss the evening rush hour. I get an Express taxi from a guy wearing an Express taxi uniform driven by a guy wearing and Express Taxi uniform with an Express Taxi licence prominently displayed on the dash of the car. I had taken an Express taxi to the airport. We hit a little traffic but nothing too major at around noon. The same went for the trip home. Nothing major in the way of traffic. Oddly, the bill was 285,000 rupiah. It took the same length of time, same route, same taxi, same time but was WAY more expensive! Now it's the difference between 17 and 29 dollars. Not a big deal but, again, in these lean times for me every buck counts. So I argued with the driver and told him his meter was broken. I have had an endless string of taxi scams since I've been here and they are really old. The guy who misses turns faking like he can't understand when you tell him to turn; the guy who has no change; the guy who, (and I'm not making this up), doesn't know how to get to the airport... but I usually don't bother arguing because they're cheap. A gozillion times cheaper than Canada. One of Canada's major annoyances. But this time I was in just the mood to challenge this bastard. I called my former student, who is a police officer, and told him what was up. I explained the whole situation to him and let him talk to the driver. He told me he thought the driver was legit. I guess he was, to be fair, he was running a legitimate Indonesian con. And I don't think for a minute that my police officer friend got his big house and riches by fighting corruption either. Just one more of the annoyances of this country. You can't get away from it.

So I get home with almost nothing left in my wallet, walk up the stairs and into the door and see a sign on it. It says rent is going up March 1st. Then I get into my room and figure I'll surf the internet. No internet. So I go out to the store to get some bread and milk. Meanwhile I call Fitri to fill her in on the wonderful day of mine. Just as I get back from the store our call is cut short. I'm out of pulsa. That's what they call phone minutes here. I buy pulsa at the store I had just come from. Ahh screw it, I'm going to eat some spaghetti, watch some TV, (offline), and relax in my cool apartment. I get the remote to turn on the air conditioner and press the power button. Nothing happens. Just like Korea Maria's electronic door lock, the air conditioner in my room has no manual controls. If you can't start it with the remote, you're screwed. It happened once before because the batteries in the remote were dead. This time the batteries were fine. The air conditioner is just not working. And on just the day I needed to cool off a little bit!

The cherry on top of the shit sundae this Monday was? The reason I'm up right now at, by golly it's 3 AM! I think I feel a tickle in my throat. Lean times. Fruit is expensive. Haven't been getting my vitimin C.

Well I had better try to get some sweaty shut-eye. Tomorrow, well today, is another day. I sure hope it's a better one! Flying with a cold. It has been a while since my last travel snafu. How I missed my travel trials and tribulations! Ha ha ha. Nope. Not vapourized. I can't get away with faking enlightenment. I actually didn't miss this kind of thing and really wouldn't mind at all if it never happened again.

It's now Thursday. I am back in Indonesia and got my business visa stamped for another SIXTY DAYS. But it was no picnic, lemme tell you. The immigration guy gave me a grilling! Made sure everybody heard him say that I wasn't supposed to be working on the visa I have. I assured him I was doing nothing of the sort! I have been looking for work, signing contracts, getting medical exams and such. Anyway, now I'm gonna HAVE to get my KITAS in the next 2 months or just move on.

I woke up early in the morning Tuesday. (I went to bed after writing the above and got a few hours of sleep). I met Mr. Yoo at his office and he gave me some money. Of course it was pouring rain so I stood waiting for a taxi for about 40 minutes then the trip, which is normally 20 minutes, took an hour because of rainstorm traffic. But I got there and whined about all my bad luck. He knows the kind of bad luck I've been having and says that in Korea they believe that means you are due for some good luck. Well, if they had lottery here I'd buy a ticket. Actually it was very good luck I had a friend like Mr. Yoo who showed some concern for me in my plight. More than I can say about others...

We checked out some flights and prices and one of his staff called and the airline told her I needed to purchase my ticket at the airport. So I got into a taxi and asked the guy how much it would be to the airport. He said about 170,000 so I agreed. It was actually a bit cheaper. I went to Air Asia and their ticket was going to be 1.2 million. I went to Lion and in the time it had taken me to get to the airport the price of the Lion Air ticket had gone DOWN! I was shocked! I got it for a little less than a million. Well THIS day was starting off a whole lot better!

I checked in and went to immigration. Sure enough the guy made me pay 1.2 million even though I had TRIED to leave the day before when my overstay was only 3 days and 900,000. I showed him my tickets, even explained myself in, (broken), Indonesian. I had him laughing a little bit too but he was immovable. So the ticket in actuality cost me about 3.5 mil. $350.00 Not terrible but it should have been half that.

So anyway, the rain stopped just as we took off. It wasn't raining in Singapore either. The flights were great. I found everything I wanted in the wonderful Singapore airport including a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. In fact I had TWO Quarter Pounders with Cheese. That's one Half Pounder with Cheese. While eating I thought to myself how so often the few impose their will upon the many. Why don't they have a Quarter Pounder and a Quarter Pounder withOUT Cheese? Who eats them without cheese? Dieters? Lactose intolerant? Well okay that's fine but because that's only one in every 100 Quarter Pounders, why not make THOSE folks do the extra work during ordering? Why do the 99 people have to go to the trouble of ordering a Quarter Pounder WITH CHEESE? It's a whacky world! In MY world a Quarter Pounder HAS cheese, baby!

Anyway, I was starting to feel that cold kicking in. The nose was running a bit and a cough was developing. So I bought some aspirin and some vitamin C chewables. Shoulda bought some cough medicine but wasn't thinking. The plane ride back was a bit painful. Ever try to pop your ears when you're developing a headcold? I could hardly hear a thing by the end of the flight and was actually plugging my nose and blowing air into my head to unplug my ears. It works but I've heard it's not a good thing to do.

I took the bus from the airport to Block M, which is close to my house. Then a short taxi ride home. 70,000! Saved 100 grand! Only problem was the flight was delayed and the bus was delayed. I didn't get home till 3:00. And by then I was in full on cold mode. I hardly slept at all because I was up every 5 minutes to cough and blow my nose. The whole next two days were like that. (Wednesday and Thursday)

It's 11 PM Thursday night as I type this. Today I found out the reason for the hike in rent. Everybody got a bigger TV. Yay. I have yet to use the TV in my room, small or big, but, yay. I have eaten one bowl of noodles and one box of macaroni and cheese since my Half Pounder. That's starvation for me!!! I have no idea how but every muscle in my torso is aching from coughing so much. I sneeze every now and then and hurt myself so bad it scares away the second sneeze. I get sleep maybe 10 minutes at a time. I've postponed meetings and classes. I think the worst is over though and I'll be able to get back to business tomorrow.

So the way I see all this is it happened because of Friday the 13th. Not ON Friday the 13th but because I didn't fly on Friday the 13th it got me. So now I don't know what to do. Avoid doing things on Friday the 13th or NOT avoid doing things on Friday the 13th. Or maybe there's just nothing we can do! Chook chook chook chook aaah aaah aaah aaah. Creepy music.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Vaxers Vexed by Vaccuous Antivaxers

I'm not here to tell you I have done all the research on this or that this side is right or the other side is wrong. But I do have a few points to bring up that concern me.

1. Vaccinations are expensive. Wouldn't you rather have no measles than measles? And how much would you pay for that? I'd say the vaccinations are worth the price we pay. Before coming to Indonesia I got a physical and some vaccinations. The physical wasn't too expensive but the vaccinations were over 600 bucks. But who's to say they haven't already saved me from coming down with something? I dunno. What I DO know is there is a lot of suspicious behaviour involved in this very public "debate" we have going on right now. And if there is one inalienable fact I have learned from life it's this: where there is money to be made, there is suspicious behaviour. In general I'm talking about lying, cheating, stealing, you know, the Greed triplets, but in the case of vaccinations I'm talking about other behaviour too. For instance, I can't be the only person who has noticed how all vaccinations have now been grouped into one category so no longer can a person have a problem with one of them without being accused of having a problem with them all. You don't like the sistotalcrunella vaccine? GET THEE BEHIND ME, ANTIVAXER!!! It's an old, old schoolyard argument ploy that makes legitimate beefs about questionable, new, not fully tested vaccines bayud... mmkay, while making people who have never heard of sistotalcrunella, can't pronounce it, don't even know it's a made up word, defend it like hissing, spitting, cornered wolverines.

Big pharma is guilty of a lot of suspicious behaviour. They've been tried, found guilty and fined for misinforming people who take their drugs. The motive was money, so the punishment was fines, sometimes in the billions of dollars. Companies like Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are examples of huge companies that have been busted and fined for huge amounts. Here's an article with more detail. The following is a list of misconduct filed against the pharmaceutical giant Merck by some former employees turned whistleblowers: "failed to disclose that its mumps vaccine was not as effective as Merck represented, (ii) used improper testing techniques, (iii) manipulated testing methodology, (iv) abandoned undesirable test results, (v) falsified test data, (vi) failed to adequately investigate and report the diminished efficacy of its mumps vaccine, (vii) falsely verified that each manufacturing lot of mumps vaccine would be as effective as identified in the labeling, (viii) falsely certified the accuracy of applications filed with the FDA, (ix) falsely certified compliance with the terms of the CDC purchase contract, (x) engaged in the fraud and concealment describe herein for the purpose of illegally monopolizing the U.S. market for mumps vaccine, (xi) mislabeled, misbranded, and falsely certified its mumps vaccine, and (xii) engaged in the other acts described herein to conceal the diminished efficacy of the vaccine the government was purchasing."

If you will just look at X for a moment. Money. That's what it comes down to. And how can you blame pharmaceutical companies for doing what is encouraged, nay DEMANDED in all industry nowadays? Because we are shooting their product into our veins? Well then maybe we shouldn't have drug companies in charge of manufacturing these multi-billion dollar products. We should let the government take care of vaccinations because we all know the government will handle things more ethically and efficiently don't we? (DANGER: Sarcasm meter in the red. DANGER)

So you see the problem. On the one hand measles, mumps, rubella, polio, all kinds of diseases have been successfully suppressed by widespread vaccination. It works! On the other hand, Big Pharma lies. It's absurd to ask anyone to believe that "THIS time they're not lying even though they've lied almost every time in the past, made billions of dollars from it, haven't listed the ingredients on the syrum in that syringe the nurse is brandishing... Come on, coward, spike up! Or are you an ANTIVAXER?"

I recently started watching a TV show I've never seen before: "The West Wing." I don't know how I could have neglected such a good show for so long. Maybe my hatred of politics. Anyway, I've watched three episodes and in the second episode, (I think it was), POTUS gets a flu shot. He asks the doctor, "What is that?" The doctor says, "It's a flu shot." The President replies, "I don't need a flu shot." Then the most widespread and compelling argument for the flu shot I've heard so far is employed by the President's doctor, "You DO need a flu shot!" and he jabs him in the arm. "How do I know this isn't the start of a military coup?" asks the Prez. Well? Who's right, the doctor or the President? We're just supposed to put our complete trust in doctors? Like they never lie and are never bought by pharmaceutical companies? It's an awful lot to ask the average person to do. Although we do it safely a lot, who knows what is in that needle THIS time?

2. Vaccines are patented. I think of Jonas Salk who made the selfless gesture to all of mankind of NOT patenting his Polio vaccine. In an interview with Edward R. Murrow he famously asked, "Would you patent the sun?" Well knowledge can be a big bummer sometimes! It turns out that Salk may not be such a wonderful human being. The patent on his Polio vaccine actually was attempted unsuccessfully, but pretend I didn't say that, let's consider him a hero and his heroic statement for a while, shall we? Would this be a solution?

An awful lot of the problems with medicine are created by companies racing for patents. They are more likely to see the drugs as fully researched and safe if there is a rival company testing a similar drug and nearing a patent for it. NO! Would I suggest that scientists are sometimes influenced by money? Well, no, I'd say they, unfortunately, are almost ALWAYS influenced by money. Patent or perish. No matter how hard you try to preach ethics in science, there are grants available to people who work fast.

According to Howard K. Schachman, science has gone from "Publish or Perish" to "Patent and Prosper." Here is a very long but enlightening article written by a person who is an authority in the area. He goes through his extensive career in science and outlines the ways that money has changed the way scientific study is approached. Like I have often bemoaned here on my blog, Schachman also believes that scientists nowadays steer clear of looking into topics that have not been shown preference by science, (i.e. have not received funding for research), in the past. Therefore science has stagnated into a discipline in which a few areas are exhaustively over-researched and potentially ground-breaking areas are neglected due to lack of funding. Like the Aether and Matrix of Matter, (see previous post).

Since every aspiring scientist knows what's hot and what's not it has become such a cinch to write papers that the peer reviewers are being bombarded. This leads to the inevitable shortcuts such as giving more consideration to things like where the paper was published, the past publications and citations of the author, even the weight of the paper, rather than the content. To give some idea of how illegitimate the peer review process in science has become consider the gibberish generating program named SCIgen. This computer program has actually had 120 papers consisting of total gibberish PUBLISHED by peer reviewed scientific journals. In relevance the pseudo scientist under whose name these papers were submitted, Ike Antkare, was ranked number 21 by Google Scholar. Albert Einstein is ranked number 36.

So in 1980, based on a ludicrous cattle farming analogy in the paper, "The Tragedy of the Commons," by Garrett Hardin, the Bayh-Doyle Act was passed allowing patenting of medicines. Ostensibly when cattle are allowed to graze anywhere they want, the grass in their area will eventually be overgrazed. Ignoring the practice employed by even the most inept of cattle farmers of sectioning off land to allow for grass to grow in one area while another is grazed, Garrett Hardin extrapolated this weak analogy of bovine behaviour to humans and came up with the mantra of, "What was available to all was available to none." Along with being a justification for a helluva lot of greed, this lead to the commercialization of research and patenting. There is absolutely no application of this farming analogy to drug research and production. If the drug business were left open to all, would the supply of drugs just get used up? It's obscenely flawed logic but capitalism and greed don't usually depend on solid logic. Nor do the lawmakers who were no doubt influenced by lobbyists with fat wallets. Sausage and laws: two thing you don't want to know how they're made. THIS was in the West Wing too!

At any rate, share the profits of your newly developed drugs with the researchers and you have just compromised the standards and ethics of the entire process. This is what we have today. Numerous conflicts of interest have arisen when universities and drug researchers literally become too invested in their research. And the "Tragedy of the Anticommons" has also come into being. In raising the question whether patents can deter innovation, Heller and Eisenberg refer to the “Tragedy of the Anticommons” when “a proliferation of intellectual property rights upstream may be stifling life-saving innovations downstream in the course of research and product development.” Like so many things in our world, medical science has been diminished by the introduction of corporate thinking. Is it any wonder people, including antivaxers, don't trust anyone in the medical profession to be pumping anything into their bodies?

3. Vaccines fail. People who've been vaccinated against something get that thing. A lot. For example the flu shots every year have to include 2 or 3 strains of the flu that are most likely to be the big ones. Sometimes a new strain is dominant and the flu shot guessers didn't include it in the shots for that flu season so there's a huge flu epidemic. It happens. How often? You can find pretty believable people who would go from 0 all the way to 100%. It's absolutely mind blowing how there are completely contradictory speeches and papers by knowledgeable people constantly popping up. Who the hell are we supposed to believe??? I am inclined to say, "Follow the money," and it would seem the vaxers have more of that to gain here, but I'm just not sure. Apparently, as the Merck stats show, there's a lot of money to be made from class action lawsuits against drug companies too. Depending on the day, I can surf the internet and see the points of vaxers and say, "Look, you can't deny that a short time ago millions of people were contracting measles every year and thousands were coming down with complications like brain swelling that actually killed them. Then after measles vaccinations maybe 100 people got them and none died. This is awfully compelling evidence that we should all vax! No?"

The very next day I can listen to a talk by some medical doctor about how new, not fully tested vaccinations are being released and pushed by drug companies onto the public who are no more than human guinea pigs. And formaldehyde, aluminum, mercury, all kinds of crap in vaccinations is bad for us. Compelling evidence for the antivaxers. No?

But scroll up, waaaay up. This is only because of the phenomenon I talked about at the very outset of this post. The old, old, schoolyard argument ploy. Measles and flu vaccinations are not the same. Diptheria and smallpox vaccines are not the same. Ebola and sistotalcrunella vaccines are not the same. DUMMY! Give your head a shake! Why would any clear-headed person get all riled up at the behest of people who were grouping any two, or any others, together? It's just lazy logic! The truth of this whole controversy would probably be easily arrived at if not for the strong emotions and downright name calling, threatening, life-or-death allegiances people have wrongfully established with one side or the other. So that when the truth finally comes out, these people who have totally committed are either going to feel like dipshits or do the human thing: keep on fighting even though they KNOW they're wrong. I'm not convinced that this is not the case already. Either way if you are against all vaccinations, you're probably wrong and if you are FOR all vaccinations, you're probably wrong. What's wrong with weighing them all individually on their merits? Like logical people! "I don't like Oreos." "Cookie hater!" "I love Chips Ahoy!" "Yeah I like all cookies too." HOW STUPID ARE WE???

That said, I'm inclined to believe the medical doctors I've seen talking about how bypassing your natural immune system, which is what vaccines do, is gonna hurt in the long run. I have searched and searched for doctors who are defending vaccinations but they are much harder to find. This is simply because vaccinations have been removed from the curriculum. Just another thing that the chosen direction of science has bypassed. And there is likely a reason for it. My guess is the multi-billion dollar industry that vaccinations represent is something science wants to keep the youngsters, (and oldsters), motivated.

Oh I get my vaccinations for polio and measles and rubella, (which I think is German Measles although it doesn't sound like a German word. Sounds Italian. Like a pasta. Rubella con funghilli. (Rubella with mushroooms)) I'm not sure about the con. Does that mean with? I digress. But I'm still more than a little skeptical about some other vaccinations that people are pressuring other people into taking. I certainly don't think anything but an exhaustively tested and safe vaxination should be mandatory! I really don't think I'm expressing that Earth-shattering a point of view here either. But I have two distinct advantages over people who are witnessing the hostility between vaxers and antivaxers right now. 1. I have no wife, no kids, no church, no clubs, no boss, no responsibilities that make me afraid to express my balls out, actual opinion! I'm the least subjective person you're likely to ever meet! Right now anyway. 2. I have a TON of free time on my hands which I have been using to research all kinds of little topics such as this to make my blog more interesting for the 3 people who read it. 3. As mentioned in 1. I am objective and if you find any flaws in this reason PLEASE let me know! I just might change my mind and/or write another blog post outlining it.

So there you have it. As I said at the beginning, this is not written in defence of either side of the vaccine argument, but it is, hopefully, a call to reason for both sides. I don't think either side is right. But both have good points so they're not wrong either. This should not be so hard to reconcile given the many MANY vaccines there are out there. My final word is, think a little more reasonably, BOTH sides, and maybe we'll get this thing figured out.

For what it's worth, in episode 10, (I think), of The West Wing, the President gets the flu.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

God, The First Mover, The Matrix of Matter, The Aether or atheism?

I've had several friends post this recently. Or some other version of it.

First of all let me say that I really, REALLY like Stephen Fry! He's hilarious and he's a formidable intellect. His comedy has made me laugh, his quiz show, QI, has made me think and laugh. He's well known for his charity work. The man is definitely someone to be respected and even emulated.

And this short vid. quickly went viral being posted and re-posted by mike dropping, check and mating atheists who considered this a brilliant, unassailable argument that would surely put to death the last vestments of belief in something so silly as God in any reasonable thinking person. And by some others.

I even saw it posted by a friend of mine who prefaced it with, "I am by no means an atheist but this was good. The response would be interesting." So being intrigued by the prospect of God's response to this atheist who, let's not forget, had just had his life's philosophical pursuits blown away by the existence of a God he was sure didn't exist, I thought about that. How might God respond to this former atheist calling him a capricious, stupid, cruel, monstrous, maniac? Certainly not the best thing to say to a capricious, stupid, cruel, monstrous maniac. Why would Stephen Fry say those things? Well, that's a good question.

It would be futile for Fry to present God with those arguments that had nurtured his earthly atheism, all of which God's existence has just disproved. I have heard famous atheists claim that if given solid evidence of God, they would acquiesce, but, dare I say God bless him, Stephen Fry just isn't one of them.

I'm not saying he didn't acquiesce on the existence part. He really has no choice if God is right in front of him. But he doesn't want to give up the fight. So he downshifts to sour grapes. "Okay the futility of my atheism notwithstanding, I don't wanna go to Heaven anyway, and here's why..." He now knows there is a God. He now knows there is a Heaven. And he's insulting God and refusing entrance into Heaven for some long held grievances that he feels he needs to air. Maybe I'm speculating here but I've seen this before and it puzzles me every time. I think this is that inexplicable contradiction within atheism that I just don't understand: people saying they don't believe in God because of some attrocities that he committed or allowed. How can you blame a God you don't believe in?

This reminds me of two things. The first is my favourite author, J.D. Salinger, who once wrote, "After all isn't cursing really just the lowest form of worship?" I think of all the past atheists I have known and few did not have the "God damn you God!" attitude that for the life of me I cannot understand in intelligent people.

The second thing I think of is how atheists seem to all agree that religion is just a blight on humanity and they generously sprinkle blame for a lot of things on religion and by extension, God. But to a man, woman and child if you ask them whether the Quran, Bible or any holy text or doctrine was written or even inspired by God, they'll say no. They HAVE to, otherwise a belief in God is implied. So then, really, religion has nothing to do with God at all, does it? It's just man's belief in a God and man's dogma, laws, rules, protocol, and behaviour that they hate. To be honest, I'm with them on this! A lot of people who believe in God are too simply because religion has lead to a lot of bad crap, but none of this crap is God's fault. It's stupid, stupid mankind.

So what it comes down to is you can't be a genuine atheist if you are like me and blame the world's ills on mankind because then none of that crap is God's fault. And you can't be a genuine atheist if you blame the world's ills on God because then you believe in a God you say you don't believe in. This answer Stephen Fry is giving is a great illustration of that connundrum.

I think of Charles Darwin too. So make that three things this brings to mind for me. Darwin was rounding into form midway through the 19th century when the movement away from God in many major areas of society was becoming popular. It flew in the face of widely held logic such as the early 1800's watchmaker analogy of William Paley. If you find a watch on the ground you naturally assume a creator due to the irreducible complexity of the watch. Obviously only a lunatic would give any credence to the concept that the watch could be formed by randomly occuring natural processes. Paley contended that even the simplest living creature was exponentially more complex than a watch and therefore living things had a Creator.

Darwin challenged this somewhat in his seminal publication "On The Origin Of Species," and many took him to be an atheist because of it. He never was. That's a huge misconception. At one point he said that he could be termed an agnostic but never an atheist. Darwin's reasoning was similar to the eye burrowing insect Fry talks about. Only Darwin found, among other natural horrors, a beetle that injects its prey with a paralysis syrum so that the poor victim can't move but CAN feel the beetle eating it alive! How could a loving God create such an attrocity? Darwin maintaned doubts until he died, but always maintained a belief in an Aristotilian, (300 B.C.), first mover and a creative force in the universe.

"It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist... I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind." Charles Darwin.

I put it to you that there really aren't many, if any, true atheists. I don't believe in aliens because I haven't seen proof. If this is a person's stance on God then they are not an atheist but an agnostic. If they say they don't believe in God for things they blame Him for, then they are an objecting believer. And if they say they are an atheist because they hate religion, then they are an ahumanist, not an atheist. I have heard no explanation to refute this theory of mine but would welcome one. I'm just saying that this is what it looks like to me.

I don't know many other reasons to be atheist but there could be some. Perhaps the thrill-seeking personality? If you believe in God and are wrong, oh well. If you don't believe in God and are wrong, fire and brimstone. "Oh yeah? That sounds like a dare to me!!!"

So anyway, I took a stab at what I thought God might have said in response to His plucky little critic, Stephen Fry. If I may be so bold, And God said, "Stevie-boy, what makes you so sure all the misery, injustice and pain were NOT man's fault? I know you denied me in your life on Earth but if every man had lived life like you, there would have been an AWFUL lot less of the evil you blame me for. Come on into Heaven."

"How can things like cancer and eye-burrowing, child-blinding pests be man's fault?" you might ask. Well, I'm glad you asked that question. There are many who maintain that we have everything we need on the planet Earth to make it either a heaven or a hell. I don't think I need to say which direction man's shortcomings, (mostly greed and pride), have trended toward. Instead of Utopia, man has chosen dystopia and along the way I believe there has been a great shift away from God that has robbed mankind of science and technology that could easily have rid the world of a great deal of its misery, including cancer and eye-burrowing insects, not to mention global warming, pollution, social and financial inequality, injustice, suffering, the whole shootin' match. And I'm not alone.

It may be uncomfortable for some to call the entity to which I refer "God," and great minds in the past have referred to that entity in other ways. I mentioned Aristotle's Prime Mover already. That's tantamount to God. Today the scientific bent is toward the Higgs Boson or a God particle, but the originators of quantum physics never intended it that way. Much like Darwin, their cause was hijacked by people who wished to take it in a more secular direction. Max Planck, who is credited as the father of quantum theory, and won the Nobel Prize in 1918 for it, said, "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."

The matrix of matter. More comfortable than just saying God. And then there was the guy who I think was the smartest of them all, Nikola Tesla, who believed in something he called the Aether, or Ether. He was an opponent of Einstein and since Einstein's theories fit better into the secular direction science was taking, he was the favourite. But Tesla caused Einstein a great deal of doubt.

"I hold that space cannot be curved, for the simple reason that it can have no properties. It might as well be said that God has properties. He has not, but only attributes and these are of our own making. Of properties we can only speak when dealing with matter filling the space. To say that in the presence of large bodies space becomes curved, is equivalent to stating that something can act upon nothing. I for one, refuse to subscribe to such a view." Well you can see his mistake. Referring to God was instant scientific suicide in his day. Even though Einstein admitted that if the Aether was detected, it would prove his theory of relativity wrong, and even though Tesla showed him an experiment that showed a pulse traveling at a greater rate than the speed of light, not many people heard about that.

Then in 1920 Einstein actually stated outright that the Aether exists! The theory of relativity is wrong! Again, not many people heard about that. Science politely told him to take his Nobel Prize and the money that comes with it and shut up. They were using that theory. "Only the existence of a field of force can account for the motions of the bodies as observed, and its assumption dispenses with space curvature. All literature on this subject is futile and destined to oblivion. So are all attempts to explain the workings of the universe without recognizing the existence of the ether and the indispensable function it plays in the phenomena.“

Tesla was silenced. But he's making a comeback. There's even a movie about his life coming out soon. And nowadays his theories are being used in research on, among other things, you guessed it, cancer! I read an article about a kid in Nigeria who created a solar and wind powered car out of mostly scrap. How many people who are financially disadvantaged because of man's improper stewardship of the planet have had ideas that could advance science and technology but they were never developed? How much has the left brain indoctrination we call "education" suppressed the creative forces of our species? How great could life be if everyone could be a scientist and science was truly science once again and open to ALL ideas, not merely the ones that coincide with its chosen direction?

We will never know, but I'd be willing to bet that if man hadn't messed up this world so efficiently, we would have solutions to plenty of things that plague this existence and cause people to become atheists. Including eye-burrowing insects. Then God wouldn't be subject to so much criticism or so many non-believers whether they call Him God, The First Mover, The Matrix of Matter, or the Aether. But that's just what I reckon. I could be wrong.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happiness is...

The billion, trillion, ogighqgaeivhdignoi - illion dollar question is pretty clear: What is happiness and how can I get me some? What if you knew the answer? How much dough could you get from unhappy bazillionaires? A cool million? Well that's not all that stimulating nowadays is it? How about a billion? I bet you could get more. I bet you could get a number of dollars that we haven't made a number for yet. You could probably sell your secret to happiness for one ogighqgaeivhdignoi - illion dollars! In "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck wrote,

“If he needs a million acres to make him feel rich, seems to me he needs it 'cause he feels awful poor inside hisself, and if he's poor in hisself, there ain't no million acres gonna make him feel rich..."

A good place to start my literary inspection of what famous authors think of happiness. I like old Steinbeck. He was one of the few authors I READ instead of renting the movies of his books or getting the Cole's Notes. Of course I DID rent the movies too, they're pretty good, but I really DID read Steinbeck! Honest Injun! lol (see Valentine's post)

Steinbeck is one of many who will tell you that money can't bring you happiness. So I guess my idea of selling the secret to happiness would be a self-defeating process. Ironic at best. I guess I'll have to give it away for free then. But if I were to come up to you and say, "Friend, I have the secret to happiness and I'm going to give it to you absolutely free of charge," you'd think I was selling something wouldn't you? I would just have to be more careful in the selection of my words I suppose. But even if I could somehow convince you that I wasn't trying to sell you a product or attract you to my club or religion, I would have to convince you somehow that I was smart, or at least sane. And that could prove difficult to do...

"Sanity and happiness are an impossible combination." Mark Twain

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know." Ernest Hemingway

Stephen King, (and I LOVE the fact that he's now included on lists like this with literary greats!), says, "Happiness should remain unexamined for as long as possible." I guess the examination of it, the thoughtful, intellectual evaluation of it, is what he is implying will destroy it.

Douglas Adams in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" wrote, "I'd far rather be happy than right any day." Again the old "ignorance is bliss" argument. And don't you kind of envy the blissfully ignorant who have no need of fact or reason or logic to mount an aggressive offensive against you? "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story." Or a good argument, to take my own liberty with the quote. There is some debate as to whether Mark Twain said this or not so to avoid dispute I'll just credit it to, oh, Samuel Clemens.

"If you tell a big enough lie, and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." Adolf Hitler

What? Hitler was an author! And it's a quote that segues nicely into my next one:

"The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better." George Orwell

Well? Isn't freedom about the biggest lie EVER? It's up there for sure. But anyway, back to our purpose, is the true source of happiness to be ignorant enough to not know that there are terrible people compromising your rights and freedoms and, indeed, your happinesses? THAT sounds contradictory too, doesn't it? If you remain ignorant to increase happiness, but that happiness is decreased, thus ends the ignorance. Ignorance can only lead to happiness if that happiness remains undiminished, no?

This leads us in two directions: 1. You can choose to break out of the ignorance and espouse the Thomas Hardy, Buddhist philosophy illustrated in the quote, "Happiness is a mere episode in the general drama of pain." Or 2. you can always fake it.

"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison to the overcompensation for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability." Aldous Huxley

Let's start with the second one. The "overcompensation for misery." I love that! How often we see it, as if the world actually HAS developed Huxlian Soma! (Soma was a "happiness" pill in "Brave New World") Wash that misery right outta your brain! Act as if. This really bugs me. Now I know it's nice to have upbeat, positive people in the room. Oscar Wilde said, "Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others WHENever they go." And really, what post with great literary quotes would be complete without one from Wilde?

Anyway, I like positive people as much as the next guy, but I don't like forced positivity. I think it's unnatural. Me and Fyodor Dostoevsky. "Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn't calculate his happiness." So I suppose it's a strategy to employ a kind of self-delusion and force your brain to somehow think happiness into existence.

"I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve." Jane Austen

"Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes." Charles Dickens.

A HA! Maybe this is the source of unhappiness! Our incessant expectation of happiness. Heck, the United States guarantees its citizens the right to the pursuit of happiness! Who are we to think we deserve happiness? Isn't that kind of arrogant? Is this just another example of the increasingly entitled mentality of the priveleged? How often do we bitch about a hard day even though most of the world has it worse than us? I'm guilty.

Just yesterday I woke up late. I had a day off work. I got on my computer and the wifi was excruciatingly slow! It passed in and out and interrupted my conversation with my friend, Paula, on Facebook as well as some games of Trivia Crack I was having. I was really annoyed! Then I went to the kitchen to make some brunch. The kitchen sink tap wouldn't shut off and when it's left on it squeals loud enough to hear in my room. It's been like that for months and nobody will fix it. Also annoying. The community fridge door was left open and my milk for my tea wasn't cold. All happiness-killers.

Then the POWER went out. So I took a shower, in the dark, and went into town to get some groceries. When I got out of the supermarket the sky was clear all around but it was raining a bit. I decided to walk home for the exercise. The sky was cloudless upwind yet miraculously the rain got heavier and heavier! A weather anomaly not unheard of in rainy season in Indonesia. I was soaked and so were my groceries by the time I got home. And, of course, the instant I got in the door the rain stopped.

The power was back on so I decided to turn on the air conditioner to cool off. Even though I was soaked with rain it was a warm rain. The batteries in my remote control for the air conditioner were dead. I had some batteries. Wrong size. Nobody in the place had the right size. I stood on a shaky chair in my room and with a spatula tried to hit the manual power button on the air con. It turned out to be just a light. There IS no manual way to turn the thing on. I went the entire night with only a couple hours of sweaty sleep.

I was bemoaning my plight when I came across, on my functioning internet, a list of famous authors' quotes on happiness. And it put it all into perspective. It might have been Kurt Vonnegut's quote, "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." I have said for a while now that if I ever get a tattoo I'll get one that says, "Appreciate what you have." And I'll get it somewhere that I can see it a lot every day. So then I re-evaluated my day.

I had a day off for crying out loud! Free to do whatever I wanted, within reason. I had internet, such as it was, I had power to run my computer, I had a computer, and I had a place to live in which to put that computer. A desk, a chair, a coffee... I had a friend! Long time friend from high school, Paula, thousand of miles away and we were just shootin' the breeze. I had a fun game to play. We played Trivia Crack while we chatted. I had my health, my youth, I wasn't hungry or thirsty, I wasn't fighting a war, I actually had it pretty dog-gone good! Better than most people on the Earth. I made some nice spaghetti with meat sauce and some garlic toast, watched a couple movies I had somehow managed to get on my computer, and I had a really good day. And I was whining and complaining to Paula.

I think this is the purpose of my existence here. I have to cultivate this strategy for happiness. I'm not like Jack Kerouac who wrote, "Happiness consists in realising it is all a great strange dream." I don't think so. I could be wrong, or I could be thinking more clearly than a guy who liked to keep his mind in a semi-dream state of chemical alteration a lot and frequently wrote IN such a state. I think life is shit. Basically. If you look at all the brutal things happening with governments, corporations, banks and militaries all over the world, you could get pretty depressed. We're almost in a state of Orwellian dystopia now, some would say we ARE in one. It's pretty crappy and I have come to the conclusion that it ain't getting any better. But I believe it has a purpose in its unhappiness and, as Edith Wharton wrote, "If you make up your mind not to be happy, there's no reason why you shouldn't have a fairly good time."

As the Taoists say, "Find joy in the suffering." And there, my friends, is the key. Find your joy. I find joy in travel, eating, drinking, friends, new cultures, fishing, sports, writing, games, watching family and friends grow up, having good conversations, and hundreds of much simpler things. One author I was morally outraged NOT to find on the list I'm taking most of these quotes from is Tom Robbins. He wrote a story, I think you can find it in "Wild Ducks Flying Backward," about what he would order for his last meal on death row. It was a magnum opus about a tomato sandwich. That's it. A tomato sandwich that was so succulently described that after reading it I made myself a tomato sandwich.

I don't think we need to have grandiose strategies regarding our pursuit of happiness, I just think we need to train our overstimulated brains to slow down and appreciate the really great stuff we have. "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." You don't need to be winning an Olympic gold medal or planting a flag atop Mr. Everest to utter these words. You could be eating a really great tomato sandwich.

I'm not saying I've nailed this strategy. I think I'll still be working on it till the day I die. It's TOUGH! But I need to keep reminding myself and striving to do it. For instance, I now want a tomato sandwich but I'm out of tomatoes. Instead of cursing the high prices of tomatoes at Ranch Market and the other tenants here for clogging the fridge with their food that just stays there month after month, goes bad and takes up space I could have used for tomatoes, I have to tell myself, "Hey, I still have some spaghetti sauce from yesterday. It has tomatoes in it." Call this overcompensation for misery if you like, but I'm going to eat some spaghetti with some nice garlic bread and a glass of milk. I'm pretty sure that is going to make me happy.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Almost Valentine's Day

It's almost Valentine's Day. As I get farther along life's path and nearer the grave, holidays change for me. I still like Christmas but not as much. Birthdays are only remembered because of Facebook. "Oh would you look at that. Three people are having birthdays today: Kelly, Sandy and ME! It's my birthday today? Oh yeah!"

I absolutely LOVE Halloween! I think I like it even better now! Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, Korean Chuseok, hey, any excuse to go all medieval on excessive amounts of food is A O K with me!

But Valentine's Day... Let's just say it's not my fave any more. It never really was. I remember Valentine's Days from early childhood. Not because of the love, because of the stress! When I was in gradeschool we had to give valentines to everybody in our classes at school. EVERYbody! I guess somebody thought that singling out girlfriends and boyfriends in gradeschool was just silly because for the lovers, they're too young to know what love is and for the kids that don't get valentines, they're NOT too young to know what social exclusion is. So we gave Valentines to everyone. I thought that was weird, and so did my other male friends because, although we were too young, (or at least I was), to fully understand what gay was, we all knew we weren't supposed to LOVE our buddies. Oh sure we could love them, but not LOVE love them. You know what I mean.

So being of a family somewhere near the bottom of the financial comfort spectrum, I remember getting those sheets of punch out valentines. Do you remember these?
They usually had one or two good ones and the rest were crappy. Which was good because I usually had one or two good classmates and the rest were crappy. Not like the richer kids in class who gave out cool valentines with REAL superheroes or even the ones from Mcdonalds. They had LOTS of love at Valentine's Day, especially if they attached Mcdonald's gift certificates to their valentines! Remember the valentines from Mcdonalds?

So on Feb. 13th I'd spend some time punching them out and choosing which classmate got which valentine. I'd usually start with the other boys. I'd try to find valentines with pictures of cowboys, spacemen, policemen, superheroes or masculine things like that even though they'd say things like "I'd like to rope you into being my valentine," "You're out of this world," "I arrest you for stealing my heart," or "You're my valentine hero!" I was okay with the inappropriate messages because the pictures carried more weight.
The Aquaman valentine would have been awesome cuz you could give it to a boy OR a girl! But you never got cool ones like THAT on the big punch-out sheets.

And there were never enough! After I took care of the main dudes in the class I had no really good pictures to give to the lesser guys. So they ended up getting the oddly shaped or impossible to understand selections.

What's "Scentimental" supposed to mean to a 7-year-old? Or even sentimental? I don't remember waxing nostalgic when I was 7. "I remember the old days, three years ago, before I had to go to school... Sesame street wasn't so bourgeois back then!" Never said that.

So then, on to the girls. You had to be careful here! Girls actually READ their valentines! But I found that attitude could usually trump most of the words on the valentines. You throw them at the chicks and say, "Here. Here. There ya go. Think fast. Incoming!" and they get the hint that your heart is really not that into it. BUT, if you had that one girl who you kinda dug, then it was a stressful ordeal! Should I toss her card at her with equal nonchalance or should I give her a little extra special chalance? Or maybe I should just wing her a valentine like the other girls but give her the one that had "You complete me," "You are special to me," or even, if I'm feeling extraordinarily daring, "I love you!" Should I sign my name with a heart beside it? Or maybe some exes and ohs for kisses and hugs? Or maybe just the ohs. Our relationship hasn't progressed to kissing yet. This was too much stress for a little boy! So I'd cave under the pressure and just give every girl whatever she got. If she was like Ralphie Wiggum and took "I Choo-Choo-Choose You" personally, whatever! So I'd just give out things like:

Can you IMAGINE giving these out nowadays? Kids would be sent home from school; social services would evaluate parents; kids would be sent to sensitivity classes; rules would be changed; laws would be made; blame would be assigned! "What's that supposed to mean? Your boy wants to BANG my daughter? Hmmm? And where did he learn that?" "My daughter happens to be one fifth Cherokee Indian, but I suppose you didn't know that did you?" "Bee? Bee? Are you gonna even TRY to tell me that has nothing to do with the birds and the bees? What kind of filthy-minded children is my daughter mixing with every day?!?!"

With so many people's moral outrage on a hair trigger these days it's probably a good thing we don't try to spread love around any more. That was the point though wasn't it? I think if you get right down to it, forget the fact that we have no idea about the reason we even celebrate Valentine's Day, shouldn't we have a holiday in which we all try to love one another? I don't mean kissy kissy touchy feely love, I mean at least a solid 24 hours of worldwide harmony. Stop the fighting and hating for just a day. Don't you think that'd be nice?

But getting back from Never Never Land, it's now about the more base and I'm sorry but, silly romantic love. Am I deranged or would any one else my age be cringing every time some woman you are "dating" or "going out with" or "going steady with," (ugh, cringe, cringe, cringe), called you her "BOYfriend?" Boy? 47 years old? Is it me or is everything about romantic love decidedly juvenile? Is it just me, (or is it just me and Louis C.K.), or do any other guys just have a hard time seeing a girl across the room and thinking, "Hmmm... Maybe that could lead to something NICE." Am I super negative or have I just lived too long to be that positive?

Love is grand. Divorce is about 50 grand. This is not just negative thinking, this is statistical fact! And if you could convince me that embittered divorcees think only of the early years, the good years, and forget about the bad years and the ugly divorce proceedings, I might be more willing to get on board the whole relationship thing, but I don't see that happening. I DO have friends and family with really good, long term relationships and I totally envy them, but I'd have to be bat shit crazy to think the rewards outweigh the risks. Wouldn't I?

I guess it happens, doesn't it? But to me? I'm like the Hulk with thick, (not green), skin that Cupid's arrows just bounce right off. Short of regressing to childhood or finding a time machine, I fear romantic love is just something I will avoid in books and suffer through in romantic comedies from now till I die. I doubt it'll make an appearance in my life. And for my part I don't even think I want it to. Too high risk. So, the following is my valentine for this year:

Just back off with that bow and arrow there, Cupid! You're outgunned.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Anatomy of a Terrorist

I don't want to flog a dead horse but I've been taking a bit of flogging myself from friends over here who insist that the Charlie Hebdo incident was all about Islam. If they were, I dunno, out of work drone pilots or in the internet surveillance racket I'd understand but they're mild mannered teachers like me. I'm also noticing that I get very few people commenting or liking my posts about this issue. Am I being ignored? I will not be ignored! (Fatal Attraction? Probly not let's move on). Being on what I'm calling and employment semi-hiatus right now, I realize that I have more time, and maybe more interest, to do research on this matter but is it that big of a leap to think these guys didn't just go from reading the Quran to suddenly slaughtering 17 people? If that's what the general perception is, and if the general perception is right, I'm in big trouble over here in 90% Muslim Indonesia! So why am I not the least bit worried? Let me splain:

It would be like a person in a Christian country getting nervous about THESE whack jobs.

Or take a look at this: It's Fox News, vaunted and respected giant in the industry, ahem, appologizing for having an "expert" on the state of Islam in Europe saying that there are "No-go zones" where non-Muslims fear to tread. Since they could find no evidence for it, (after they'd aired it), it's time to appologize to the court, have it stricken from the record and tell the jury to give it no weight in their verdict. Just another example of massive overreaction. I have a friend who plays professional soccer in England and he tells me that there ARE no-go zones, but that they have nothing to do with something as silly as religion. No they are about the far more important matter of which football, (soccer), team you support. If you walk down the wrong street wearing the wrong colour, you can be beaten up or even killed! "Football firms they're called. Soccer holliganism. But I don't see any news reports blaming the entire sport of soccer or the various rules in it's rule book.

I got to thinking as soon as I heard about the Charlie Hebdo attack and could not imagine any Muslim who didn't want the image of Allah to be seen, committing a high profile act of terrorism, in the name of Allah, (that's important because it makes it way MORE high profile), and expecting the cartoons of Allah to NOT be seen by hundreds of millions of people instead of maybe tens of thousands. But apparently I'm less apt to think of these guys as absolute drooling pussheads than a lot of people. I'm so rarely the positive thinking one!

First let me clarify my parenthetical remark: Have a guess at the percentage of terrorist attacks in all of the E.U. that are perpetrated by Muslims. Go ahead and see if you are within 20 or 30%. Bet you're not. I wasn't. Now I know the introduction of statistics will create all kinds of doubt. Well founded doubt and otherwise. And there will be people criticizing saying, "What do you define as a terrorist attack?" or other such things. Valid points. So take these stats with a grain of salt if you like. But know that there are plenty of other sources that show the same thing: the Muslims are responsible for a small minority of terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. The present state of fear and anti-Muslim sentiment and suggestions to prepare our countries for Muslim attacks just doesn't seem to be consistent with these numbers. Why are things this way? The simple answer is the media. Another word for terror is fear and it sells. Islamaphobia is real and it is being nourished by the media. But there are more complicated answers too.

And then when something happens like Charlie Hebdo that makes Islamaphobists say, "Finally! Now do you see what we're talking about?" guys like me, Jimmy Carter, Jon Stewart and some others in this post and in the news start saying things like there were other factors that contributed. It wasn't just a religious attack. This was a group of extremists. And you get people in high positions in the Islamic church condemning the actions and saying these were not real Muslims. I understand. It can get pretty frustrating for those looking to disparage and defame Islam. Nonetheless, I like the truth and I had a feeling this incident had more behind it than some crazed kids with visions of virgins dancing in their heads trying to uphold what they thought was the Holy Islamic law. I thought they were radical Muslims and I wanted to find out what or who had radicalized them.

Amity Coulibaly, the 3rd gunman who shot up the Jewish supermarket said, "The target was France in particular because of its obvious war on Islam and oppressed nations." I won't show all the research but they are involved in Syria, Ivory Coast, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Algeria and the Central African Republic to name some. They did not, however, support the Iraq invasion. Remember how because of that France was hated so much in America that "freedom fries" were created and pro wrestling had a few French bad guys? Well all they had to do was agree to bomb the shit outta Syria with the U.S. and suddenly they were America's "oldest allies." French fries could be eaten again and wrestling bad guys lost their French accents.

Then I heard about Cherif Kouachi, one of the brothers, telling a French TV station just before dying that he had received funding and inspiration from Islamic Cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The first thing I thought was, "Hmmm, maybe it WAS just a religious thing if a Muslim imam was a motivating factor. But I looked up the name.

I think the first thing I learned about this guy was that he was targeted and killed by a U.S. drone. That was in Yemen in 2011. Shortly thereafter, his son was also killed by a drone and I believe the article I was reading at the time said that he was "accidentally" killed by a drone. It may have been the NY Times article. They say he was "mistakenly" killed by a drone and leave it at that. "How the hell did that happen?" I thought. So I reckoned I might be onto something. I kept reading and it was like puzzle pieces falling into place. This guy is someone EVERYBODY should read about or study in school! I bet, even though there's no doubt he was complicit in a lot of terrorist activities, recruited and inspired countless young people to be trained in terrorism, there will be a movie made about him someday. His life is a veritable anatomy of a Muslim terrorist.

Seriously, at the time of his death there was little or no doubt of his connection to terrorist actions like Fort Hood, the Times Square bombing, the underwear bombing and others. But his real threat to anti-terror was his powerful oration and his great success attracting young men, even from English speaking countries, the kind of recruits that are most valuable to terrorist factions. I believe I read that he was ranked number two on the American most wanted, or most wanted dead list. So I was surprised when I began reading the chronological story of his life. He was not always that way. In fact he was the guy people talked to if they wanted to know the state of Islam in America. He was on TV shows, in documentaries, even spoke at the Pentagon and other political meetings. But then, shortly after 9/11 when America hastily enacted all kinds of strict anti-terrorism legislation and was able, through SAM's, (special administrative measures), to pretty much throw proper legal due process out the window when it comes to hunting terrorists or suspected terrorists, Anwar al-Awlaki was thrown in jail. No charges laid, no court hearing, he was just thrown in jail.

Try as I did to get any details on the specifics of his imprisonment, I couldn't find them. You'll notice the NY Times article just skips over that part. So does Wikipedia and a dozen other articles I've read. I came across one that said he accused the Jews of perpetrating 9/11 and was put in jail for that, and another that loosely tied it to some tribal conflict, and several that just commented on the whole incident using terms like "ambiguous" or "trumped up." The person who seemed to know the most about the story of Anwar al-Awlaki was a guy named Jeremy Scahill. He reckons al-Awlaki was imprisoned for his magnetic character, his ability to preach using the language of the streets and fluent English attracting a wide variety of young men to his cause, particularly U.S. and U.K. Muslims. Remember, at the time, his cause could not be proven to have anything at all to do with terrorism. Essentially he was put in prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression, but THIS kind of expression was considered an act of war. He stayed in jail for 18 months, 17 of which he spent in solitary confinement. That will mess ANYone up mentally! When he got out, and again I had a hard time finding info on why he was let go, he WAS radicalized! The official explanation for his release had been something to the effect of, "the U.S. no longer expresses a desire to keep him incarcerated." WHAT??? You KNOW if they had anything at all to hold him on they would have. He was railroaded! No doubt about it. I found myself wondering if I wouldn't want to run out and join an extremist faction after going through something similar.

I was sure I'd seen Scahill before on the Daily Show and heard that he had made a documentary called, "Dirty Wars" that dealt in more detail with al-Awlaki. So I got the movie and watched it.

WOAH! My blood ran cold and hot at the same time! I was chilled by the cavalier dispatching of humanity by the U.S. military and it angered me because again I was carried me down a psychological path I didn't wish to travel. I was forced to imagine just how I'd feel if loved ones of mine were summarily erased like the people Scahill shows in the doc. And I don't even HAVE kids of my own. I was relating to the man who said he wanted to declare jihad on America. There's no way of knowing but it made me wonder if I would't do the same thing in his position. It definitely shed a lot of light on why the terrorist hit list continues to grow and why it seems recruiters like al-Awlaki don't have much trouble finding people to join their radical groups. Could it be that these expensive, intensive and defensive anti-terror tactics were actually increasing terrorism? It seemed pretty obvious that that was the case. Could it be that that was their purpose? Certainly not! Could it? Really?

Is this just a massive make-work project for the U.S. military that will eventually lead to what they call "heightened anti-terror security" in other nations? There are already people speculating that the whole Charlie Hebdo attack was planned and carried out by Israeli or American intelligence to lead to just that. I have to admit to, again, giving the gunmen credit for intelligence enough to not leave their I.D. in the getaway car. That just looks suspicious to me. And THIS looks even more suspicious. Why did he kill himself? DID he kill himself? Where's the report. I don't know if there's fire here yet but I'd say there's smoke.

Heightened anti-terror includes more soldiers, guns, bombs, killing, violence, deterioration of civilian rights and freedoms, deterioration of rule of law and due process, and MASSIVE motivation and proliferation of the terror the anti-terror is designed to stop. Well it's already happening, isn't it? Britain and France are already negotiating for some and we've seen signs of it in other U.S. allied countries like my own, Canada. This post has a much higher chance of being viewed and I just might be flagged because of it. I'm not even kidding about that.

"I know David joins me when I say that we will continue to do everything in our power to help France seek the justice that is needed." Barack Obama said this meaning David Cameron, British Prime Minister. After reading the above and watching "Dirty Wars," this should scare the hell out of you!

Al-Awlaki was imprisoned for 18 months to, as Scahill says in the movie, "shut him up for a while until people forgot him." Then he was killed. Both without any charges laid, trials or due process. Then his son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old who had no ties to terrorism at all was killed by a drone bomb just a short time later. No explanation was ever given, no statement by Obama, no apology. About the only official who spoke about this supposed "accident" was Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and senior adviser to Obama's reelection campaign who commented the maybe he should have had a more responsible father.

The killing of 17 people in France inspired a million and a half people to take to the streets in protest. How many people do you think a story like this will radicalize or "INSPIRE?" Add to that the increasing number of stories of people who see friends and family killed by anti-terror forces like JSOC, (Joint Special Operations Command, the one Scahill documents in Dirty Wars), and you have a pretty good idea of why that kill list isn't getting any smaller. You also have solid reasons to believe Charlie Hebdo was not just about religion. But if you want one final link that is pretty darn hard to ignore it's this: There was another guy killed along with Anwar al-Awlaki. It was Samir Khan, the creative force behind "Inspire" the militant group's internet magazine. The official American position on killing him was that he was not a significant threat and was not intended as a target. "Whoops. Collateral damage." Muslim magazine man murdered for no reason but the contents of a magazine. Anybody else see a possible connection here?

At any rate, there are way too many articles to link to this about people being falsely imprisoned and rights being trampled on in the name of anti-terrorism. Here's one: Abdulelah Haider Shaye. Just do some surfing, folks. And whatever you do, don't miss the documentary "Dirty Wars."

Oh and by the by, it might interest some of you to research the history of France in Algeria from I think it was 1830 when they just cruised on in and massacred or captured the natives. Why? Do you really need to ask? It wasn't oil or natural gas. Back then the big industry was textiles and France had visions of cotton fields all across Algeria with the locals doiong the work and the French getting rich. Basically they made the, as they called them, "Arabs" their niggers. There was torture, beheading, attempted genocide, mistreatment, millions killed, it's a squalid tale.

And guess where the Kouachi family is from. But I guess that has nothing to do with anything. Please... You know there have been people who were captured by these radical Muslim factions and lived to tell about it. Here's the story of a French guy who was captured by ISIS. He doesn't seem to think they are doing it completely, or much at all, for religious reasons. I think he might know just a little bit better than the average person, no? Oui, oui, mon ami.