Archive for April, 2012

International Travel: Croatia, Hungary and Greece

April 27, 2012

For my latest international travel articles, please click on the following links:

Croatia

Flea market in front of an ancient wall surrounding the Diocletian Palace, Split, Croatia

http://voices.yahoo.com/tour-beautiful-affordable-croatia-variety-of-11039752.html?cat=16

Budapest, Hungary

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

http://voices.yahoo.com/budapest-hungary-beauty-variety-young-and-11192660.html?cat=16

Delphi, Greece

Offerings along the entryway into the complex of the Oracle of Delphi, Greece

http://voices.yahoo.com/delphi-greece-offers-two-historical-complexes-lovely-11227376.html?cat=16

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Jews for Jesus – A California Thing, or is Religion Going “Crossover”?

April 25, 2012

I was driving home today when I spotted a mini-van sporting the door sign “Jews for Jesus”. Now, call me simple minded (as I admit others have done…), but that’s a little like a sign saying “Catholics for Martin Luther”. I mean, it’s just plain weird. At this point, I must confess that I live in California, so it just goes to prove what many of you think anyhow: California is so weird by nature that nothing seems strange.

Anyhow, it seemed so odd to me that I immediately looked them up on the internet. They are not local! They are at least national. So I looked at their doctrine. To make a long story short, they believe that Jesus was indeed the savior that the Jewish religion predicted, and subscribe to every single belief that Christianity believes in. SO, is that like a song trying to be country and R&B and soft rock all at the same time; you know, the “crossover” flavor of the month?

It seems “The Jesus Movement” started in the late 1960s, and some guy named Moishe Rosen (oi vey! Sounds like a radical rabbi, but they called him a “veteran missionary”) developed what he called “broadside-style gospel tracts” in New York City. See? We’re not so weird out here! Blame it on those whacko New Yorkers.

So, my next question was the obvious: How can they call themselves Jews for Jesus? If they have accepted Jesus as the savior, which no self-respecting Jew would ever consider, then they are no longer Jews! They are Christians.

Maybe they’re “reformed” Jews. Many “recovering” Jews. But they are not Jews.

So, what’s up with that?

On Bill Gates, Computers, Microsoft, Cars, and the Ford Motor Company

April 24, 2012

Some of you may know I write historical fiction. For modern writers, computers are the ultimate love/hate relationship. Not only do we write on the ‘puter and store our work on all of those frustrating peripherals, but (especially for historical fiction writers) the internet is an infinite source of research material – when it’s working. One of my critique group members (yes, via the internet, over at least three countries!) shared this little gem with us, and I just had to pass it on. I hope you enjoy.

At the recent COMDEX computer expo, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated:  “If Ford had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, Ford issued a press release stating:  “If Ford had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash…twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single ‘This Car Has Performed an Illegal Operation’ warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask ‘Are you sure?’ before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You’d have to press the ‘Start’ button to turn the engine off.

My group member added one more little tidbit: When all else fails, you could call ‘customer service’ in some foreign country and be instructed in some foreign language how to fix your car yourself!

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 3)

April 21, 2012

Part 3: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Most significantly, the Jewish religion predicted the coming of a messiah who would “save” all of Mankind. While this was definitely not the first myth (or story) of a “God-man” (god in human form as a savior figure; the first usage of the term God-man as a theological concept appears in the writing of the Christian Apostolic Father Origen in the 3rd Century AD; Baldwin, 1901), it became the genesis for a cult that would change the Eastern and European world.

Perhaps the most ancient God-man figure is Baal (or Bel) of Phoenicia/Babylon. A 4,000-year-old tablet now in the British Museum depicts much of his story. Baal is taken prisoner and tried in a hall of justice; he is tormented and mocked by a rabble; he is led away to a mount; he is taken with two other prisoners, one of whom is released; after he has been sacrificed on the mount, the rabble goes on a rampage; his clothes are taken; he disappears into a tomb; he is sought after by weeping women; finally, he is resurrected, appearing to his followers after the stone is rolled away from the tomb. (Pratt, 2001)

The Egyptians created the sun god (god of light) Horus, the son of Osiris (whose name is a Greek transliteration of the Egyptian Asar), who was the Egyptian god of life, death, fertility, and the underworld. In 3000 BC, Horus was born on December 25 to a virgin, and three kings followed a star in the east to observe and celebrate his birth. At the age of twelve he began to teach others about his father, god, and at the age of thirty he was baptized by Anup to begin his ministry. He had twelve disciples, and went about performing such miracles as healing the sick and walking on water. The sun god battled every day with Set, the God of Darkness, who lived in the dark bowels of the earth. He was called truth, the light, god’s anointed son, the risen savior, the lamb of God, etc. After being betrayed by Typhon, he was crucified and arose again after three days.

Attis of Phrygia (in modern day Turkey), celebrated in 1200 BC, had the same basic characteristics. Krishna of India, in 900 BC, was very similar. Even more closely aligned was Mithra, the sun god of Persia, a messianic figure worshiped around 600 BC, with Sunday being his sacred day of worship; Dionysus of Greece, circa 500 BC, first turned water into wine. Some of the other nicknames for these deities were king of kings, god’s only begotten son, the light of the world, the alpha and omega, and so on.

This is where the story, especially the time sequence, becomes even more muddled. According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was born approximately 2,045 years ago. For the first few hundred years after the birth and death of Jesus, the majority of Jews not only denied that the savior figure had actually been born, the name of Jesus is not even mentioned in any of their countless historical writings. The Jews and Romans who did convert to Christianity were few, and were pretty much a persecuted sect. This began to change during the medieval period in the societies controlled by the Roman Empire.

Thus, another question arises: since Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism (as is Islam), why are there such striking similarities between Jesus and the pagan God-man figures who existed in older polytheisms? And why did Christianity overcome its Jewish origins, as well as all of those pagan religions, to become dominant?

Oddly, the rise of Christianity really started with Saul of Tarsus, not the twelve apostles. Saul was born a Pharisee of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin. His father was so wealthy that he bought Roman citizenship, so Saul was free to travel throughout the Empire. Saul was a fanatic about his religion, and was zealous of the traditions of his fathers. At the height of his fame, Saul was known as the greatest persecutor of Christians, which was encouraged by Rome. Saul imprisoned and punished the assembly at Jerusalem, and was responsible for countless deaths in his ambition to exterminate Christianity, which offended the Pharisee community by claiming the savior had come.

One day while traveling to Damascus, so the story goes, a bright light from heaven blinded him and he heard a voice say: “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” When he asked who was speaking, the voice said: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting”.

Talk about your original “born-again Christian”! As much of a fanatic as Saul was as a Pharisee, he became even more vehement about preaching the word of the savior’s arrival, including marching into the tabernacle and berating the Pharisees for not believing. As the world has seen with other fanatics, the power to persuade can be immense. Where Christians had been a small, persecuted cult, the newly christened Paul helped this new religion to expand quickly.

By the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political, military and religious upheaval. Its holdings were shrinking, and Italy itself was being attacked by invading forces from all directions. Within its boundaries, emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions — paganism, Judaism and Christianity — vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions, hoping that eventually they would blend into one. He succeeded, but upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. However, while that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.

However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary force, a new monotheism was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the hold of monotheism. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on the most conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire.

Without the prohibitions of “defiling the flesh created by god” of Catholicism to inhibit it, Islam was free to pursue the sciences, most especially medicine. Perhaps because Catholicism was so repressive, or perhaps because Islam was young and vigorous, Islam has grown tremendously while the Christian faith was irreparably split in the 16th Century by Martin Luther. Nevertheless, with the distinct exception of Hinduism in India, all of the polytheisms of the world have shrunk considerably or died altogether.

As science continues to answer the questions that have plagued Mankind since the first sentient being looked up into the heavens and wondered what, why and how, the influence of religion on the human race continues to erode. Perhaps that is why Islam is so virulently fundamentalist: Muslim leaders know they must insist their followers believe absolutely, without question, in the existence and power of god, or they also will eventually lose their hold in the world. If the power of rational thought and expanding knowledge are allowed to grow, the history of religion will become exactly that: history.

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 2)

April 20, 2012

Part 2: Why monotheism, and why Mesopotamia?

Regardless, the history of the creation of monotheism takes us back to those questions: Why change from many gods to one? Why Mesopotamia? And why at that particular time after millennia of polytheism? There are many possible reasons, but what I personally believe is the reason is the advent of science. Here are just a few examples:

“Archaeological research covering a 6,000 year period in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, shows that the classical high cultures of the ancient Near East demonstrated some of the earliest and most fundamental examples of systematic observation of phenomena and prediction, unsurpassed until the European Renaissance, and practical engineering, unsurpassed until the 19th century. Though clearly an advanced technological society, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, with imperial influences in Syria, western Iran, and southern Turkey) left records on cuneiform tablets that indicate the society had an advanced capability in mathematics. The people … moved from the hunter-gatherer way of life, which had proved effective for hundreds of thousands of years to a more settled Neolithic village lifestyle, based on the domestication of plants and animals about 12,000 years ago.” (Blake L. White, Strategic Technology Institute 2002)

“The Assyrians depended as much upon artificial irrigation as upon the periodical rains. They were skillful in constructing machines for raising water, and their vast system of canals was as remarkable as a monument of well-directed labour, as for the knowledge of hydraulics which it displayed.” (Layard, as quoted by White)

“In addition, village life facilitated new forms of technologies, such as metalworking, pottery, stone carving, and new forms of social organization. Mesopotamia shows evidence of being the most advanced technological society of its era. Over a 6,000 year period, Mesopotamian technology included advances in carpentry, glassmaking, textile manufacture, leather-working, perfume-making, farming, food preparation, irrigation, flood control, canal-building, water storage, drainage, brewing, and their tablets also provide detail on the economics of various industries.” (Roaf, as quoted by White)

“Perhaps the most impressive engineering achievements of ancient Mesopotamia are the series of ziggurats found throughout the region as early as 2100 BC in Ur, 1900 BC in Babylon, and 900 BC in Assyria. In addition, the Assyrians of Nineveh under the leadership of Sargon II (722-670 BC) and his son Sennacherib dominated the Near East with its iron-equipped armies, battering rams, and horse-drawn chariots.” (Derry, as quoted by White)

To sum it up, research tells us that the Mesopotamians had an older and even broader knowledge of science than ancient China. It seems quite likely that, as the sciences progressed rapidly in Mesopotamia, more and more “lesser gods” fell by the wayside as the actual causes of natural phenomena were understood (to some degree). With the loss of faith in polytheism, humans still needed some higher power to believe in, so they created a single, all-powerful god that defied the answers of science–well, up until modern theories regarding the origins of the universe and mankind. While the people of China were very advanced in many ways, their science (especially technology) was not quite as all-encompassing, and culturally they leaned more towards philosophy than an increasingly conservative religion. Thus, India remained predominantly Hindu, which is a polytheism approximately 5,000 years old, while China moved towards Buddha, Confucious, et alia, which are philosophies. In the meanwhile the Western World became predominantly monotheistic.

Next: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Why Polytheism was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion

April 19, 2012

Part 1: The shift from polytheism to monotheism

How did the world come into existence? How did mankind rise from the primordial ooze to dominate the animal kingdom? How do the forces of nature work? Throughout history, all cultures have wondered about these and many other questions. They have all created explanations for both natural phenomena and metaphysical mysteries, mostly from their vivid imaginations rather than from any scientific evidence or logical ruminations. We call these stories they made up to explain the mysteries of the Earth “mythology”. In simple terms, then, the purpose of mythology is to explain the unexplainable. Just because we label religions that were created before the births of Abraham of Ur or Jesus of Nazareth or Muhammad in Mecca as “mythology”, that certainly does not mean they are the only religions that were founded on myths.

As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate that primitive religions were practiced, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). All of these religions, as far as we can determine from that evidence, were polytheistic. So, after a quarter of a million years of humans investing supernatural powers to a wide diversity of gods and goddesses, why did most people begin to believe in the existence of a single supreme being? When and where did this transformation happen?

According to Jewish tradition (Rich, 1998 – 2011), Abram (or Abraham) was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia (Southeastern Mesopotamia) in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE, although this does not necessarily mean that Judaism believes the universe has existed for only 5,700 years as we measure years). At that time, the Mesopotamians were still highly polytheistic, worshiping idols. Abram was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, Abram questioned the faith of his father and sought “the truth”. Abram came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single creator, and he began to teach this belief to others. Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship.

One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”

Eventually, as the story goes, the one true creator that Abram worshiped called to him and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then god would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between god and the Jewish people was established.

Of course, the irony of this story seems to be lost on both the Jews and other religious believers: if the “gods” exist only in icons, and have no power that has ever been truly demonstrated to humans (well, except for the handful of “chosen” witnesses and prophets), what difference does it make if you pray to one or five hundred? They are still idols, creations of the imagination of Man. But such is the power of “faith” that logic can be ignored for the sake of whatever belief makes you happy.

Next: Why Monotheism, and Why in Mesopotamia?

The NCAA is Hypocritical About Pay for Sports vs Other Activities

April 18, 2012

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth”

April 13, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “truth” brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life. For a more in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In this blog, I will only deal with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. It’s clear where she’s going with that “higher being” topic, and I’m writing a book on it, so that will be a long answer for another posting.

Wisdom?

As to the last comment, I will further address that in the same post about a supreme being. However, I will say now that it’s clear this “truism” implies that anyone who doesn’t believe in the “wisdom” of a true believer (i.e., a religious person) is ignorant, and intellectually blind to the “truth”. I absolutely confess to being ignorant about many subjects. I may even be a fool. However, I personally don’t think that not believing the “wisdom” some preacher hands down or a text clearly written by men (Torah, Bible, Qur’an, etc.) makes me either one. It just means I don’t think the same way as you do. Ironically, this is not a religious person vs. atheist thing; all religions use the same argument to “prove” that their religion is right and all the others wrong.

A Little Math…

I beg you for a little indulgence here: I studied probabilities and statistics when I was young and even more foolish, so part of this “universal” thing is related to total population. You can skip the next paragraph, but the point is even tiny statistical variations can mean millions of people when talking about “everyone” in the world – which is what universal means.

“In statistical significance testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis (i.e., no relationship) is true. In this context, value ‘a’ is considered more “extreme” than ‘b’ if ‘a’ is less likely to occur under the null. One often rejects the null hypothesis when the p-value is less than the significance level α (Greek alpha), which is often 0.05 or 0.01. When the null hypothesis is rejected, the result is said to be statistically significant. When you have a large sample size, very small differences will be detected as significant. This means that you are very sure that the difference is real (i.e., it didn’t happen by fluke).”

Okay, now for some really BIG numbers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes an epidemic as affecting around (yes, the percentage fluctuates…) seven percent of the population of a given area. Therefore, if even seven percent of the people have different opinions from what some people consider “the truth”, this would represent a huge number of people in the world.

Love

So, given the above, we’ll start with love. I suppose this is the closest “universal truth” that I would agree with. However, we don’t all seek the same kind of love. Some people truly only seek the “love” on an alien space being who is all-powerful. Some people are really happy being loved by their pets, and don’t want anything to have to do with other humans. You think that extreme? A sociopath is a person “with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” They hate people and do not seek love. While there are many people who have either neurotic or actually psychopathic degrees of this disorder, there are many other “normal” people whose motto is “I don’t like being around other people”. In fact (very ironically), there is a website entitled Experience Project where they discuss their feelings, presumably without ever wanting to meet. There are undoubtedly many others who want to totally ostracize humanity by having no contact whatsoever.

Security

We’ll move on to security. This is a little lower down the Maslowian “Hierarchy of Needs” discussion, which is a big part of the teacher education process. That means it’s more basic, but not less important than love. First, “security” is a very abstract word. What does it mean to you? According to Maslow, it’s equivalent to safety. Does it mean not being killed? Does it mean having a home or situation you can count on? Second, I know of many people who actually want “adventure”, whatever that means. To most of them, it means moving on from home and security, to a life of excitement. When I was a young man, I loved cliff diving. Others I knew did hang gliding, or drag racing, or other dangerous activities. Perhaps as a person grows older they desire security, but how many young people really seek it out? That is a huge part of the human population.

Motivation

As to motivation, I’ve written articles on that. I claim there is actually no extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic. You’ll have to read the article on that to fully understand what I mean, but basically it’s that other people—your parents, teachers, preachers, et alia—can only seek to push the buttons that motivate you as a person, they cannot in themselves make you act in a certain way outside of coercion, which is vastly different from motivation, which is the desire to act in a certain way. What is more, some people in love act like “maniacs”, quite often killing or committing other externally destructive acts to demonstrate their love, while others will commit any act of self-sacrifice to prove their love.  This is not “acting one way”; such actions are polar opposites, and there are many variations in between. The same applies to hate: some people become subservient to those they hate in order to try to gain favor or sublimate their feelings, while other may murder and mutilate someone they truly hate. While hate is the flip side of love, in many people it manifests the same manic reactions.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is much along the same psychological path, one step higher than the social need of love. Yet it’s a much more slippery slope. Not only is “self-esteem” a variable from one person to the next, I don’t agree that everyone seeks it. An extreme case: I know there is a BDSM community out there where many men and women not only seek humiliation, they enjoy it. There seem to be many people who subscribe to that particular “enjoyment”. Would most of us describe receiving the desired humiliation and subjugation as seeking self-esteem? Seems a very bizarre interpretation of self-esteem to me. There are a surprising number of religious people who actually enjoy being told by their clergyman that they are “evil sinners”, and will go straight to hell if they don’t seek god’s forgiveness for their inequities. There are many, most prominently Catholic sects, who practice self-flagellation. Frankly, I don’t consider either of those as people with great self-esteem; they simply seek their humiliation in different ways from the BDSM crowd. Then there are people, mostly women, who will remain in a severely abusive relationship because, deep down, they know the man really loves them and only hits them … what? Because he can’t control his temper? Because they actually deserve to be abused? Not my idea of self-esteem. Have we started to hit epidemic proportions yet?

Security

Security is a myth, and we don’t all seek it. Let’s start with the thrill seekers: diving from cliffs, racing cars or motorbikes on highways at terrible speeds, shooting hard drugs, playing Russian roulette, and so on. Some people don’t have to be homeless, but they prefer it. Addictive personalities, such as die-hard gamblers or alcoholics, are certainly not concerned with security. The tens of thousands of people in the world who commit suicide each year are not seeking security (although some of them commit suicide because they have no security; go figure). I could go on, but the point is the numbers here are huge. In fact, we can’t even define security: again, each person has their own concept of what that means. Definitely way past epidemic proportions!

SO – NO!

All of those warnings you hear about using medications (‘May cause this or that’) are because no human body reacts exactly the same to any given drug. The same drug and dosage may cause anything from no reaction to death, depending on a person’s body chemistry. Multiply that by about a million times of complexity and you get the human mind. Do you really think all people react the same to the same stimulus? If so, that shows a deep ignorance of the psychology of most human beings.

So, no, Ms. Responder, you have not proven to me in the least that there are universal truths. There are perhaps some “general population” truths, but even the particular flavor of that truth changes according to individual taste buds. I stand by my previous contentions.

Your turn!

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 12, 2012

Section 2: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Prior to the 1970s, local politicians and school districts had control of both budget and curriculum. Because these people had to answer directly to the local voters, the people generally got the educational system they felt their children deserved. While it is undeniable that more and more authority over the public education system has been given to the legislators by the voters thanks to both public lawsuits and the passage of funding bills, much more has also been appropriated by the state and federal government. There will be a lot more on this, including Serrano vs. Priest and Proposition 13, in Part IV of this series.

A couple of examples that spring to mind are former President Bush and his alleged “No Child Left Behind” policy, and former California Governor Schwarzenegger with his massive budget cuts in education and opposition to Prop. 98. When wielding that power, politicians should bear in mind that education is not their field of expertise (unless they were teachers before being elected), and should therefore tread cautiously when enacting legislation or determining policy that impacts the public school system.

Unfortunately, it seems that most of them really consider themselves experts in the field. When I was in private industry, it was exactly the same attitude with many businessmen. The attitude was: “We went through the educational system. We graduated from college. We’ve read a few articles, talked to a few educators. We understand it perfectly.”

Well, I studied history, government and a little political science. I’ve been governed and otherwise impacted by politicians all of my life. During my years in business, I talked with a number of politicians, some as high as the senate level. I still read and hear reports on the goings on of our government and the politicians on a near daily basis. I’ve actually read many political tracts (not counting “The Prince”), from theory to practical application. Therefore, I must be an expert in politics, and could start my career as a politician tomorrow, right? Of course not. Not any more than the average politician should consider him or herself an expert in education and presume to dictate the inner workings of the public school system. So make policies, be a “watchdog”, but don’t micromanage education.

It’s bad enough that many politicians seriously interfere in the educational system without really understanding how it operates or what its mission should be. What is infinitely worse is that many of them do not care. For many politicians, education is simply a “platform issue”, something that cannot be ignored during election time, but gets short shrift once they are in office—especially when determining budget. When they do become involved, it is often “politics as usual”, a tit-for-tat approach either brokering their vote in exchange for a pet bill of their own or writing some piece of legislation that will appease one of their powerful constituent groups—or, even worse, one of their wealthy lobbyist groups. In the worst case scenario, they support changes in the educational system that will financially benefit publishers, contractors, consultants, or other business concerns that make a profit from the school system. From looking at most of the impacts on how teachers are credentialed, textbooks are chosen, curriculum is developed and how programs are instituted, the last people many politicians seem to care about are those for whom the system was actually intended: the students.

Case Scenario: In the 1970s, English teachers commonly had one textbook for grammar and punctuation, and a lot of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Some would augment their curriculum with newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. While academic presses were very big in colleges because professors tended to write their own texts, K-12 teachers used the primary texts that the local school board deemed fit.

After the money shifted from local districts to the state, academic publishers got really interested in producing “classroom packages”. These packages include a dozen or more texts (main text, grammar book, workbook, teacher’s guidelines, variations for different reading levels, etc.) as well as CDs to do all of those things on the computer, as well as accompanying videos, test generators, etc. These packages were different for each grade level, and each cost the district thousands of dollars. If you taught English to three different grades, you got three different sets for you and your students. Most of these materials were so “overkill” that none of the teachers used them. Are the teachers of today more stupid than those of fifty years ago? Nonsense. A good teacher could still pick up a newspaper (if there are any print editions left…) and create a lesson plan for virtually any subject.

However, now that the decision making process has been centralized, it’s easier for the big houses, such as Houghton-Mifflin, Pearson Prentice Hall or McGraw-Hill, to approach the state board of education and a few key legislators (those who serve on education-related committees) to, um, convince them to buy their units, than it was to approach every single board of education in the state. Because they have such a huge investment in a package they had to produce before they could try to sell it, guess how much more they spend wining and dining the decision makers to choose them above the declining competition?

I will leave the last word on this blog to Jennifer Marshall:

“The Constitution does not provide for a federal role in education, and public schools have traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities. Washington’s intervention seems to have brought out the worst in education governance. It has led to ever-increasing spending and bureaucratic bloat while undermining schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. Federal intervention also creates a compliance burden, sapping time and money (an annual price tag to taxpayers of $25 billion) that could be more effectively deployed to achieve educational excellence.” Jennifer Marshall, “Freeing Schools from Washington’s Education Overreach”, The Heritage Foundation, April 6, 2011

Next: Our Underfunded School System

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 8, 2012

Part 2: What is the value of Truth?

If every single person has their own version of “the truth”, then what’s the value of even having such a word, or a concept? The most obvious use is that it gives us a starting point for seeking agreement on any given subject, whether the subject is scientific, legal, political, philosophical, religious, or “other”. Within those subjects, we devise a code of behavior by which we can live. Within that code of behavior there are (in my opinion) two basic, distinctly separate sets of guidelines. The first is morality, and the second is ethics.

There have been many definitions of those worlds. In the most simplistic sense, I like to think of morals as the group code of behavior. Ethics are the individual’s code of behavior. These could be exactly the same, but they rarely are. Generally speaking, codes of behavior are truly specific to the individual, no matter how much the individual may strive to adhere to the code of their group.

No matter what the group, each one has a basic code of behavior, although not every single aspect of behavior may be encompassed by that group. Certainly every religion has a highly codified set of behaviors, which are usually all-encompassing in the lives of the adherents of that religion. More to the point, each group has a unique code. While every religion has a morality, each sect and each church has its own variations. Each school or subgroup within that school, each business or division or department within that business, each ethnicity or segment within that ethnicity, each culture and subculture, each neighborhood, and so on, all have their own general codes of behavior. If a person belongs to that group, they are expected to follow that code of behavior as much as possible.

However, while most members will generally identify with the behavioral precepts of the group (or else they would not be a member!), it is within the nature of humans to have their own opinions that may differ with some of the group’s precepts on behavior. That’s where ethics enters into the picture. Whenever the individual differs from the group, they do so because, within their personal set of beliefs, a particular code or behavior of the group is not right for them. If a person finds that there is no general group code to which they can “in good conscience” subscribe, then they must form their own code, which is personal ethics.

Therefore, to be “amoral” does not necessarily mean that a person is “bad”, although every religion and many other organizations (such as governments) would wish you to believe so. On the other hand, if a person considers themselves to be ethical, that does not mean anyone else in the world would consider them to be “good”. Many serial murderers considered themselves to be very ethical. There is little doubt that Tomás de Torquemada, the Dominican friar who was the first Inquisitor General of Spain, considered himself to be highly moral. It is all a matter of viewpoint. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Act II, scene 2).

After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else. That is far more complicated than it sounds, and perhaps no human is capable of completely following that maxim. After all, sometimes just a careless comment to someone can be insulting or otherwise hurtful to them. Still, given that basic maxim, it is then possible to build an entire ethical system by which a person may strive to live–that is, as long as that person subscribes to that particular belief.

Another important reason for understanding “truth” is that we can more easily relate to the behavior of others if we are aware that our truth is not necessarily that of someone else and, even more importantly, that ours is not any more valuable than that of the other person. After all, how can we prove that our truth is correct and that of the other person is wrong? For example, the question of whether or not god exists cannot be proven. For an atheist, how can you prove the non-existence of a non-existent being? By the same token, if god does exist, then which religion is the correct religion and subscribes to the “true” dogma? Many wars have been fought, and many people have died trying to resolve that issue.

… and the Truth Shall Set You Free

How much more tolerance could there be in the world if everyone honestly thought that another person’s truths were just as valuable, within the world of that person, as their own truths are to them? How much more peaceful would the world be if fanatics of all stripes did not seek to impose their “truths” on other people by force? That is not to say that we should never seek to convince another person toward our way of thinking, if invited to do so, by the force of our logic. But, if we do so, we should be just as willing to listen to their counter-arguments. Once again, that is one of the great values of having an open mind. Just like a cage, we have no freedom if the door is locked tight.