Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Art Of Misdirection

  I recently watched a rather entertaining TED talk entitled: The Art of Misdirection.  The talk is presented by a professional illusionist named Apollo Robbins, who specializes in picking pockets. He spoke about the power of being able to cause another person to focus their attention wherever you want. After an impressive demonstration using a volunteer from the audience, he closed by saying:
"Attention is a powerful thing, like I said- it shapes your reality. So, I guess I'd like to pose that question to you: if you could control somebody's attention, what would you do with it?"

  Today's post is a follow up to my initial impression of the 21 hour filibuster-esque speech delivered by Senator Ted Cruz earlier this week. As it turns out, Thursday's publicity stunt amounted to little more than verbal sleight of hand. How so? Well, that's what I want to write about today. Once Senator Cruz had our attention, what exactly was he doing with it?

  Well for starters, he wound up voting FOR the motion he had just demonstrated against. What happened to standing up for what you believe in Mr. Cruz? Why don't you put your money where your long-winded mouth is? The Washington Post reported the response of a prominent fellow Republican:
“I resoundingly reject that allegation,” the Arizona Republican said after reading Cruz’s words aloud. “To allege that there are people today who are like those who, prior to World War II, didn’t stand up and oppose the atrocities that were taking place in Europe, because I have an open and honest disagreement with the process . . . is an inappropriate place for debate on the floor of the United States Senate.”

McCain said Cruz’s words belittled those who served in the war, including his father and grandfather. He then used the rest of his brief speech to defend his record in opposition to Obamacare, which shouldn’t have been necessary: Nobody fought harder against the health-care reforms.

...In the end, Cruz joined the 99 other senators in voting to proceed with the debate on the legislation Cruz seeks to block. He said he would take his stand on the next vote, but that probably won’t go much better for him — in no small part because of colleagues’ disdain for him, which McCain gave voice to after the freshman senator finished his bladderbuster.

McCain ridiculed the “extended oratory” and then recounted his own opposition to the legislation. 'We fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner and we lost,' he said."

  Amazing, a senior member of his own party admits that voting and losing that vote over 40 times amounts to losing fair and square. Go figure. Besides, Cruz's speech didn't even count on record as an actual filibuster. It was quite literally just an extremely long, at times strange, side show. The knee-jerk reaction would be to make fun of that technicality, but I think it's more interesting to ask why he would do such a thing in the first place. Why perform such an exhausting charade if you (and your colleagues) know your efforts are not actually going to block anything, and you are planning on turning right around and voting the other direction anyway?

  Fellow Republicans have criticized the stunt as self-promoting, but what is the real endgame here? In addition to building a healthy martyr complex, I worry that taking advantage of the indignant apathy of the average voter may be the real objective behind this week's oratory olympics. In my experience, most people are willing to discuss politics, as long as they don't have to think about it too much. To be fair, trying to make sense of national or even global politics is an easy way to make your head hurt in a hurry. But indignation and apathy are an odd pair, a combination that highlights some interesting aspects of human nature.

  Indignation makes us feel like we are actively involved in an issue, it placates our natural fear of helplessness, it feels like action. Apathy saves us the trouble of actually taking action, it saves us from the uncomfortable experience of challenging our own perspective in order to make a truly informed decision- it is much easier to take up one stance, and stay there. It's seems increasingly rare for people to invest the time and effort to research the valid points made on both sides of an issue. Most people will just read the headlines, form a biased opinion, and never fully realize the extent to which they are being manipulated by the very leaders they are cheering for.

  In order to come up with substantial, real world solutions to complex societal problems, we must perpetually challenge our own views. We cannot remain static, we must make a conscious effort to continue learning, and be willing to let that knowledge expand our vision. The logistics of caring for a nation of over 300 million diverse human beings are undoubtedly complex. As long as we are content being held back (indefinitely) by our differences, we will not progress as a group. And in modern civilization, we need to progress as a group, now more than ever. The world is shrinking, and the core mechanics of human survival are changing. Without the group, there is no food on the grocery store shelves- and I don't know about you, but I don't own a farm. Without the group, we have no jobs, no economy. Without the group, everything falls apart. We must develop kindness, and patience. We must learn to get along, or history will repeat itself.

  It is not hard to let a power hungry organization like a political party (any political party), tell you what to think. It is hard to have an objective approach to problem solving, to consistently seek the most fair and equitable solution for everyone concerned, and to do it with determination and humility. It is not hard to polarize a situation, and then throw a tantrum when you don't get what you want. It is hard to be truly tolerant, open minded, and selfless.

  Observe what happens around you, among your family, friends, and coworkers-- listen to people  talk about society's problems, and notice what they say and do when it comes time to point fingers. It has become part of our culture to treat the office of President of the United States as little more than a high profile scapegoat, for everything that goes wrong during his term. We've definitely had presidents who have done things worthy of reproach, of that there is no doubt. But strangely, no matter how dysfunctional the legislative branch becomes, I find it fascinating that the relative degree of accountability they face, in relation to the magnitude of their failures, is so severely lacking. Consequently, the House and Senate remain essentially free to opportunistically exacerbate our problems, and bear little or no personal consequences. For example: putting an additional 800,000 Americans out of work, while simultaneously calling for economic reform and recovery, would definitely qualify as the type of hypocrisy I am talking about.

  Ultimately, we are the ones who give our representatives the freedom to fail us and keep their jobs. We choose to ignore the complexity of the checks and balances that the constitution of this nation put in place all those years ago. Instead, the order of the day is:
1. Blame the opposition for all governmental failure, regardless of scope, causal factors, or length of history.

2. Make sure to get yourself and your buddies (re)elected, no matter what it takes.

3. Rinse and repeat.

  In today's world of no term limits for legislators, and lobbyists signing the real paychecks on capitol hill... the system is pretty thoroughly broken. One way to change this problem would be for the house and senate to vote themselves out of a job by instituting term limits. Call me crazy, but I'm not holding my breath on that one. If you want to remain in public office, just give your voter base a "worthy target" for their indignation, and you don't need tedious things like facts. Control people's attention, and you don't need to be accountable for your own incompetence. You don't need logic or reason if your constituents are kept busy with mindless partisan bickering. You don't need to heed the majority vote in a democratic system when you can vote on the same bill 41 separate times. You don't even need to do any real work when you show up to work. All you have to do, is live to play the game another day.

  So anyway, the next time a controversial topic comes up, political or otherwise, just remember-- it's the people who are actually solving problems, and doing real good in the world, who go largely unnoticed. Loud does not equal right. Showmanship does not equal sincerity. Bold does not equal brave.

  Why don't the good doers and problem solvers get the kind of attention that comes from holding your pee and reading twitter for 21 hours straight? Probably because they are busy doing good, instead of talking about it.  ;)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Did He Really Just Say That?

So... that just happened.

  Did Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex), with a straight face, and almost-convincingly-simulated emotion, actually just compare the advent of a healthcare exchange program in America, imperfect as it may be, to the threat presented by Hitler's WW2 era Nazi Germany, therefore equating the moral fortitude of those who support the Affordable Care act, to Nazi sympathizers? Wait, what?!

I don't know whether to laugh, or stare at my television in befuddled awe, or just throw up right here on my living room carpet. o_O

  Am I the only one who finds it deeply embarrassing that this obviously overreaching analogy was uttered by one of our elected leaders, in our nation's capitol, on internationally available satellite television...


  Yes, I understand why Senator Cruz was calling on moderate Republicans to "vote their conscience", and I am (like his colleagues) also aware that he is considering running for POTUS in the next election, making a stunt like this look like early campaigning. But what if someone hears his language and adopts the same attitude without really understanding what they are blaspheming? What if someone overseas is left with the impression that this really is how flippant we are regarding the tragedies their people endured just 73 years ago. My own father served in the United States Navy on an aircraft carrier during WW2 for goodness sake, it wasn't actually that long ago in the grand scheme of things. At bare minimum, we should be more careful about "crying wolf" and diminishing the value of such statements. Check out what even a fellow Republican had to say about this nonsense:

  You know you have gone out on a limb when a senior member of your own party chastises you for being an embarrassment. And what must our neighbors to the north think we are implying about them, if we publicly renounce even partially socialized medicine to be as evil an omen as the rise of The Third Reich? (And oh by the way, Cruz was born in Canada.) What about our friends in Great Britain? And we wonder why the rest of the world generally regards us as a nation full of crude, uneducated, self-absorbed imbeciles... /smh

  Shockingly, most people don't seem to even be aware that the PPACA (Patient Protection and Afforable Care Act, aka Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare") was already signed into law, all the way back on March 23rd, 2010. Then on June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the PPACA's individual mandate in the case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. It is already law ratified by all three branches of the government! Choosing to ignore this fact, the Tea Party reps have called for a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act 41 times, and lost 41 times. These people have a serious problem accepting the democratic system many of them are intent on spreading to the rest of the world.

  I don't care which state Cruz "represents", or which political party he is a member of; from a purely academic standpoint-- did the same person who was the winner of the 1992 National Debating Championship, and the1992 North American Debating Championship, really just base the thesis of his 21 hour anti-Obamacare speech on a hyperbolic comparison so grossly disrespectful to the actual atrocities committed by the Nazis, that you could virtually hear him lose the vote of the entire Jewish community, in one incomprehensible moment??

  So... this just in: according to the Senator from Texas, "Americans are suffering from Obamacare". He went on to claim that the Affordable Care Act, (which is set to launch on October 1st of this year) is solely responsible for the entire U.S. economic decline of the 21st century, and the impending genocide of some lucky ethnic group(s) right here in America! It's not clear yet, exactly how the United States government is going to carry out murdering 7.3 million innocent men, women, and children in the coming months- but I am sure the details of this event will be forthcoming.

I am sorry, but this is just too much stupid for one person to ridicule.
Mr. Stewart, help me out please:

The Daily Show - Wednesday, September 25th

  There is only one possible explanation for this insult to the intelligence of the American public-- Senator Cruz and his colleagues must be working with Guiness World Records in pursuit of Earth's most elaborate prank. That, or he plans on running for President, which is basically the same thing. Considering the string of mind-numbingly ignorant and offensive things GOP reps/candidates have said in recent memory, this must be one part of a much bigger joke.

  Maybe if our legislators continue de-funding our public educational system as well, the rising generation won't even know what happened back in the 1940's. Then people like Ted Cruz can make impressive sounding comparisons like this without anyone actually understanding what he is talking about.

  All sarcasm, disgust, and mental vomiting aside... this is a depressing commentary on how simple-minded our nation's leaders must think we are if they really expect us to swallow this kind of nonsense. Or something else equally disappointing is going on, I don't know what.

  Who knows, maybe we are that dumb. We are the geniuses who keep electing these dysfunctional clowns to "lead" us, and then we scapegoat a single member of the executive branch for the inability of the legislative branch to do anything even remotely productive. Heck, I am even from the state of Texas originally- which potentially gives me an added reason to be appalled by this preposterous example of party-line puppetry.

* Sigh. *

So anyway... I have to go take some ibuprofen now. American political rhetoric is so asinine anymore, it makes my face hurt.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Meaningful Life

  I could not agree more with the sentiment communicated by this graphic, in fact this is EASILY the #1 thing about American culture that has never made any real sense to me. Ever.

  Being a "stay at home" dad myself for the last couple years, for reasons I cannot control, I can vouch for how easily one is made to feel like a reject, a non-functioning part of "the system". Simply because you are not (currently) a well oiled cog: willing and able to be an indentured part of the machine every day of your life; just because you and your loved ones need food, clothing, and shelter simply to be able to exist.

  In 21st century America, happiness, individuality, and family time proportionate to their importance in your life, are luxuries reserved for when you are old and retired and you have already spent the best years of your relatively short existence "paying the bills". American capitalism is backwards, broken, and utterly sucks. Yeah, I said it. Our priorities as a society are leading us straight to Miseryville, population: you.

  As a member of the working lower/middle class, recently labeled "the 99%", do you feel like you are living "the American dream" every day when you drive to work? Do you feel like unfettered capitalism is working for YOU? If you can answer yes, then congratulations: you are (by far) the exception, not the rule.

  For the vast majority of us who feel obligated, or even oppressed into following the beaten path, I say: be an individual! Don't let social pressure squeeze the humanity out of you like water out of a wet rag. Take an HONEST look at the culture you are surrounded by, and if it doesn't actually match your priorities, the priorities that live deep down in the center of your heart... exercise the power to CHOOSE what your life will be, and do it.

  Be different. Be yourself. Be happy. THAT is the most meaningful legacy we can give our children, not a manilla folder full of pay stubs! Long after we are no longer around to support our loved ones financially, they will carry on living life, using the unique things about us for inspiration, the things that no 401k can buy.

  Earn a living, support yourself and your family, these are a must in order to survive-- but PAY ATTENTION to the choices you are actually making along the way, and be careful not to sell your SOUL in the process. No faceless corporate machine, well-meaning community, or fleeting sum of money has the right to claim your spirit: the flame that gives you the passion for whatever it is you are truly passionate about.

  For now, breathing the fresh air outside right after a summer rain is still free. The smell of a baby's hair right after a bath is still free. The smiles and giggles of your children when you make that funny face that they love, is still free. Time spent cuddling on the couch with your sweetheart is still free. Don't let the LIFE in your life pass you by.  ;-)

- Chuck

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Brief Friendship

Huge housefly buzzing around my head. I hate flies.

I place a bounty on it's head.

The kids chase it around for a couple minutes, with the 3 year old protesting that it "found" her and they are "friends" now.

Fly buzzes around my head again. I get up, kill the fly in one shot, and feel happier.

The 3 year old is now weeping: "YOU KILLED MY FRIEND!! Waaaaaaah..." and stomps off to her room, inconsolable.
#smh #lol