Opinions, Writing

Mark Twain Offers A Few Thoughts On Humanity

I felt that this “story” from Mark Twain was an appropriate addition to my earlier article “We’re acting like animals?”

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“Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal… In truth, man is incurably foolish. Simple things which other animals easily learn, he is incapable of learning. Among my experiments was this. In an hour I taught a cat and a dog to be friends. I put them in a cage. In another hour I taught them to be friends with a rabbit. In the course of two days I was able to add a fox, a goose, a squirrel and some doves. Finally a monkey. They lived together in peace; even affectionately.
Next, in another cage I confined an Irish Catholic from Tipperary, and as soon as he seemed tame I added a Scotch Presbyterian from Aberdeen. Next a Turk from Constantinople; a Greek Christian from Crete; an Armenian; a Methodist from the wilds of Arkansas; a Buddhist from China; a Brahman from Benares. Finally, a Salvation Army Colonel from Wapping. Then I stayed away for two whole days. When I came back to note results, the cage of Higher Animals was all right, but in the other there was but a chaos of gory odds and ends of turbans and fezzes and plaids and bones and flesh–not a specimen left alive. These Reasoning Animals had disagreed on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court.”
Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2004.

Opinions, Writing

We’re Acting Like Animals? If Only We Could Be that Evolved.

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Another mass shooting occurred today at a small church in a small town in Texas.  At this time, at least 26 have died and the suspect has killed himself…again. Same story, same ending; again and Again and AGAIN!  How often? I checked on-line for statistics with the intention of going back 20 years.  I made it to 5 and my hand was aching from all the writing. Yes, 5, V, FIVE,🖐 years and I had found 18 incidents of violence in the United States where at least 3 people were killed in a related event on a given day.

Date                 Location                    Dead   Inj.   Susp. Sex   Susp. Dec’d?    Notes

  1.  11/05/2017  Sutherland Springs, TX      26     Many      M             Y      Church Shooting
  2.  10/01/2017  Las Vegas, NV                       50+   500+       M             Y      Concert Venue
  3.  06/14/2017  San Francisco, CA                3        0             M             Y      UPS Co-Wrkrs
  4.  06/05/2017  Orange County,FL                5        0             M             Y      Co-Wrkr Killing
  5.  01/06/2017  Ft Lauderdale, FL                5        6+           M             N      Airport Shooting
  6.  09/23/2016  Burlington, WA                    5        0             M             Y       Macy’s Store
  7.  07/08/2016  Dallas, TX                              5        9+           M             Y       5 Police Ofcr’s
  8.  06/12/2016  Orlando, FL                          49      58+         M             Y       Night Club
  9.  12/02/2015  San Bernardino, CA            14      22           M F          Y       Hus/Wife Killers
  10.  11/29/2015  Colorado Springs, CO         12       9+           M             N       Plan’d PrntH’d

Ok, that’s half of my five year list. I’ll stop at 2 years and 10 incidents; you get the point. The numbers suggest that we are not safe anywhere, that males are more likely to kill and that when they do, most likely they will commit suicide when cornered. It’s that last part that really defines us; animals don’t commit suicide. What’s wrong with us? That question is for a far greater mind than mine to answer.  I have a few thoughts though, actually cliche’s.

  1.  Growing up, I was told not to hurt people, “it’s what separates us from the animals”.
  2.  In Humor, regarding the treatment of pets, “Animals are people too”.
  3.  Humans? “Oh, we’re at the top of the food chain”.

Unfortunately, I feel that we’ve managed to fool ourselves into believing that we have actually evolved beyond that of, well…us.  Our ancestors, hoping that humanity would improve with the passage of time, set the bar too high. They hoped we would become more civilized, intelligent and maybe put down the club; I mean, we’re not animals, right? Some have suggested that it is our intellect that makes us superior to animals, I’m afraid that it has just made us more dangerous. Human evolution? At this pace, we are going to “evolve” ourselves right out of existence. What is wrong with us, why are we killing ourselves at a record pace? I suspect that the answer lies hidden somewhere within our “animal instinct”.

 

 

Opinions, Writing

Who Wants To Live Forever…?

“There’s no time for us. There’s no place for us. What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us? Who wants to live forever? (An excerpt of a song written by Brian May, in 1986, for the movie, Highlander).  The song was destined to be performed by a musical legend, the one person who could give it the “depth” that it needed.  What I believe this legend knew at the time and we didn’t, gave him the “voice and pain” to make the song his own.

His name was Farrokh Bulsara and he was born September 5th, 1946 on the East African Island of Zanzibar to parents of Parsi descent. He later moved to India where he spent his childhood learning to play the piano. In his late teens, he and his family, moved to England. There he developed a love for ballet, opera and theater, ironically, although he was a classically trained pianist, he, by his own admission, could read “very little” sheet music but he could sing and it was incredible, he had developed a singing voice capable of an amazing four octave vocal range. Music was clearly Freddie’s passion and he wanted to share it with the world, which he did in an epic way.  He and three others had formed a band. To family and friends, he was Freddie or Farrokh Busara, but to the rest of the world, he was known by another name; Freddie Mercury.

Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen, was world renown for his extravagant outfits, incredible stage performances, vocal skills and his lifestyle. It is estimated that Queen has performed in over 700 concerts worldwide. But this story is not about the band.  This is about Freddie Mercury, the music and the way in which he faced death.

During the 1980’s, HIV/AIDS was still somewhat of a mystery waiting to be solved.  An untreated patient could hope for a lifespan of 9-12 years, however many didn’t get that far. In 1986, Freddie, who was openly gay, was tested for the disease. He told the press that he didn’t have HIV/AIDS, but many suspected that he actually did. In April of 1987, his partner, Jim Hutton, confirmed that Freddie did indeed have HIV. Fans around the world were stunned that Freddie Mercury could be so sick with this incurable disease. But, this is also not a story about HIV/AIDS.

This is a story about an incredibly gifted musician, of perseverance, the pursuit of theatrical perfection and of the consummate performer.

I suspect that by 1986, Freddie Mercury knew he was ill and that he was not naive about his mortality.  Also in 1986, Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, wrote the song, “Who Wants To Live Forever” and in 1987, it was performed perfectly by Freddie Mercury. I can only imagine the strength it must have taken for Freddie to so passionately perform a song that was an “in your face” reminder that he wasn’t going to live forever.  I’m certain that in the recording studio, not a dry eye was to be found by anyone who knew him.

By 1990, Freddie was visibly ill and Brian May had written a song about Freddie and his personal struggle with the disease called “The Show Must Go On”.  Freddie, again, provided the vocals. The song “Chronicles the effort of Freddie Mercury continuing to perform despite approaching the end of his life; he was dying from complications due to HIV/AIDS…”.

This is one of the last videos of Freddie Mercury before he died on November 24, 1991. Even near the end, he carried himself with dignity. I believe he was, arguably, the most versatile and talented theatrical/musical performer of the late 20th century.  He was, without question, totally committed to his love of music. I find myself reflecting on his life and I can’t help but feel that he was essentially performing his own living eulogy to the world before ultimately leaving us with an enormous void, that once contained the genius that is Freddie Mercury.

 

 

 

 

This article was written using my own opinions and thoughts.  The pictures were obtained from IMDB and the internet.  The videos from YouTube, and some items contained within quotation marks from various internet biographies.

 

 

Aging, Opinions, Writing

Why I write articles and what I want from you.

I write two Blogs. Travelinggump.com and Thesunflowermuse.com. The first, mostly for travel and travel tips/ideas, the second, for opinions, thoughts and articles about our social condition. I post on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress and Facebook. Three sites are “blowing up” (Instagram, WordPress and Twitter) with followers. Facebook is “meh” and I would like that to improve.

What I know:

1. If I don’t write or post articles of value and interest, I should expect nothing in return. Generally, I put an enormous amount of thought into most of the articles that I write, especially on Thesunflowermuse. I’m trying to get to the core of the issues.

2. That there is a “process” for getting your posts to the right audience, which I’m working on.

3.  That people are inundated with “stuff” and “like” whatever is easy to see/scan and are generally too busy (understandably) to read in detail. Hence the enormous popularity of pet pictures/videos. Ugh.

4. That despite having a large amount of followers, I am not getting the traction I want, especially on my personal facebook page, which supports the theory; “You can’t be a prophet in your own land” and/or you really need to improve your articles. The first I get, the latter I don’t feel the need to change at this point. Going forward, I’m going to try and confine myself to the two sites listed above.

What I want from you:

1. If my articles are of no interest to you or my opinions are too this or that, leave.
If they are of any interest, entertain you, provoke or evoke a thought or passion, acknowledge it somehow.

2. On Thesunflowermuse.com, my thoughts and opinions can be challenging and are written to be thought provoking. Feel free to complain, gripe or even correct my grammar (please!), something! If you don’t agree, say so!

3. And lastly, on Travelinggump.com, I am fortunate to have excellent advertisers (Amazon, Holiday Inn, Expedia, Orbitz, Trivago etc…). Please search and book through my page as it costs you nothing extra and helps me to keep them happy.

There is so much “noise” on the internet today and I am trying to rise above the cute animal pictures/videos and provide great Travel Tips and Ideas (https://travelinggump.com) and Thought Provoking Stories and Opinions on The Human Condition and Society (https://thesunflowermuse.com). Please Engage.

Best Wishes, Michael

Opinions, Writing

The ACLU, Why Aren’t You A Member?

Author’s note:  The mere mention of the “ACLU” evokes strong emotions in many.  Writing this article is akin to a doctor’s physical; not pleasant but necessary.  I ask you to open your mind for just a minute and then let me know what you think.

Before you throw your phone or computer across the room, please allow me, a Republican, an opportunity  to explain my position.

I’ll start with a partial quote from the movie “The American President”. “Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren’t you? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights”

The fictional President does ask a valid question. Why are we all not members?Both Liberals and Conservatives will fight “tooth and nail” to protect our Bill of Rights, especially the sections that apply to their particular interest. It’s probably the only thing they have in common.  The ACLU, for their part, provides legal and to a lesser extent, political aide to either “side” in defending perceived violations of the United States Constitution.

So what is the problem with the American Civil Liberties Union and a large percentage of the American population?  Here are my thoughts.

  1.  The ACLU will consider fighting for anyone who feels that their rights have been infringed upon based, I’m certain, on the facts and/or visibility of each case.
  2. Many, or at least a majority of, Americans don’t approve of changes to “traditional” values, either religious or historical, such as gun owners rights etc.
  3. As the American society continues to “evolve”, for lack of a better word, many who feel disenfranchised are forced to seek legal remedy to either enforce a perceived denial of an existing right or privilege or effect a legislative change in which new laws and protections are created that  more accurately reflect, in their view, the needs of a “modern” society.
  4. Many of these legal challenges strike at the historical and religious core of the American value system and are often met by an entrenched and well funded legal/political opposition.
  5. Because of this “entrenchment”, many who have sought remedy have found and received effective legal assistance from the ACLU.
  6. The ACLU, because of its defense of many unpopular positions has developed a reputation of being a “liberal” organization.
  7. This is an unfortunate but understandable casting of their position as most “conservative” causes have many more “avenues” to find support in both legal, political and financial terms and therefore rarely seek their assistance.
  8. Bottom line, the ACLU has been successful at bringing unwelcome change to conservative traditional Americans.

So where do I fit into this? I would describe myself as fiscally conservative and socially, somewhat, liberal; an odd combination. In Abraham Lincoln’s time, this would have made me a candidate for the Whig Party, of which he was a member.

I have been a member of the ACLU for about 10 years. I rarely agree with their position on current issues, but I’m eternally thankful they exist. The ACLU represents “Checks and Balances”.  Could you imagine if one of our political parties had ALL of the power without opposition, without the ability to question? History has shown us the effects of this before. Think Germany, 1939.

I voted for Trump and I haven’t changed my position, but could you imagine if  there were no opposing voices to any President’s political ambitions? Balance is essential.  Balance allows me to sleep at night.  I draw comfort in the fact that whatever the issue, there is an opposing position. In a perfect world this should bring compromise, even though today it seems to bring only gridlock.

Society is growing and evolving rapidly  and though we may not like where the pendulum is currently, the ACLU’s caseload generally reflects the issues of the day. In the 1950’s it was race, today it’s different.  We all benefit from a spirited debate and a thorough examination of all the facts, whether we agree with the issue or not.

I support the ACLU because they give a voice to those who may have gone unheard and they remind one side of the equation that an different or alternate opinion may exist and that it’s supporters are ready and willing to defend it.

I’ve Included a few examples of the cases in which we’ve all enjoyed the benefits of the ACLU’s efforts.

  1.  Brown v. Board of Education
    One of the century’s most significant Court decisions declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional, wiping out the “”separate but equal”” doctrine announced in the infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision
  2.  Gideon v. Wainwright:  An indigent drifter from Florida made history when, in a handwritten petition, he persuaded the Court that poor people charged with a felony had the right to a state-appointed lawyer.
  3. Miranda v. Arizona: The Court held that a suspect in police custody has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel and a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and established the “”Miranda warnings”” requirement that police inform suspects of their rights before interrogating them.
  4. Reed v. Reed:  Struck down a state law that gave automatic preference to men over women as administrators of decedents’ estates. This was the Court’s first ruling that sex-based classifications violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

 

 

Opinions, Writing

Winners and Losers? Wow, did I miss the mark…

I recently wrote an article, “Winners and Losers. The intellectual cost of labels”, in which I attempted to make the point that “labels” are dangerous to our intellectual development.  I received some interesting responses:

  1. “This is a very Liberal article” and “if everyone is being told that being second is of no consequence, why would they ever strive to be first?”.  She makes a few further points, “Growth depends on our ability to want to become more” and “I think it’s sad that kids are not allowed to “fail”. How will they ever feel the thrill of winning?” (The above quotes are a few of the many points that were made)
  2. Another reader commented that “I didn’t like being the last picked to play in sports”
  3. A reader stated that she liked the statement “Most successful people lose more times than they win” which she found helpful in lifting her morale during a challenging career event.  She further adds “Although I do want my kids to realize and understand winning and losing, it doesn’t have to be in those exact terms”  She further says that “kids who lose a game or something, don’t need to be punished when the winners are taken out for ice cream.  Losing isn’t a bad thing, because so much growth can come from it!”

I am both thrilled and thankful for the opinions.  However, I’m afraid that the point that I was trying to make was missed.  I genuinely hope this helps to clarify my intended position.

I don’t like labels, whatever they are. I chose winners/losers as the article’s primary focus but it could just as easily have been crazy/sane, smart/stupid or kind/cruel.  It really doesn’t matter as the thought that I was attempting to communicate was that once we label someone and no one asks “why’, we’re done.  The label sticks and the brain stops.

Instead of defining ourselves with labels, we should be trying to learn “the why”. Why did I win, why did I lose, why are others calling that kid stupid, cruel or crazy?  Thomas Edison scored a “win” because he made the light bulb; ok, I get that, but he’s bigger than that term. It should be, “tell me about the WAY in which Thomas Edison made the light bulb, including both his successes and failures”.  And after the soccer game; “I know that I won/lost, but talk to me about “why” I won or lost. Either conversation improves me!”

My point is:  Don’t label me or someone else and then move on, TEACH ME “THE WHY” SO THAT I CAN THEN LEARN.  Why did I win?, why are you calling him cruel or stupid?  STOP LABELING AND START EXPLAINING.  It’s easy to label someone as this or that, but to have to explain it, especially to a child… It is at this humbling moment that we may actually, finally start to grow.

 

History, Opinions, Writing

Winners and Losers. The Intellectual Cost of Labels

The word’s “win” and “lose” frustrate me.  They are a leash about our necks, restraining us from any forward momentum. These two verbs do more to hinder the intellectual growth of humanity than most people would ever imagine.

Pause for a moment and think about that.  Those two words are at the core of how we define ourselves; am I a winner or a loser?  Examples of both abound; “Winner’s want the ball”, “let’s put a check in the win column” and “this is a win-win situation”.  Alternatively, we have “losers never win”, “it’s a lose-lose situation” and it’s bad to “lose your mind, the game or your cool”.  This is what we have been taught, this is what we know and this is how we live.  Winners and Losers.

But, is it really that simple?  Are we so shallow as to think that because our side won, that we are a “winner” and that the opposition is a “loser”?  We seem to do it every day, so yes, we are unfortunately that shallow.  This is where we need to change, to grow.  I suggest to you that those two words are so incredibly inaccurate and restrictive to our thinking and self-worth, that they should be relegated to where they belong, in the land of the spoken obsolete.  Think, Jalopy, Comely and Dastardly.  Old, unused words from our past.

We need to replace those two words with the question, “what did you learn?”; not did you win or lose, which grossly  oversimplifies the emotional outcome of an event. To use “these” two words is to deny an incredible opportunity for intellectual growth.  Imagine you’re at a soccer game in which your child’s team scored less than the other.  Your child says “we lost” as the other team loudly celebrates their victory.  You say “No, you didn’t lose, you just scored less today so let’s talk about what you’ve learned” and a discussion follows, hopefully about the value of perseverance, sports tactics and methods of self improvement to reach their goals.  To the child who “won”, a conversation desperately needs to occur regarding the value of humility, perseverance, sports tactics and methods to continue being successful in their endeavors.

…Or we can take the winner out for ice cream and the loser home to sulk until the next soccer game.

I would like to think that we all know better but being “us” we continue to ignore the obvious; that labels are terribly detrimental and restrictive to our social and intellectual evolution.  We are ridiculously quick to label.  Can you imagine a football team that played 500 games, failing 499 times before finally prevailing?  How would we describe the team?  They’re Losers.  Yet Thomas Edison failed at least 1000 times before getting it right and ultimately creating a working light bulb.  He’s a winner.  Ironically, most successful people have lost far more times than they ever won.  They “showed up”, dug their heels in and never stopped trying.

So did Trump “really” win the election?  Did the democratic party “really” lose? I suggest that nobody won, based on today’s gridlock, in the election.  I’m sure that both sides are asking themselves “what did we learn, what could have been done differently?” I’m certain the democratic party is “learning” from the event.  Thinking deeper, did we really win World War II and lose in Vietnam?  Does it matter? Or did we learn.  I hope we are beyond winning and losing and focusing on the lessons of history and the tragic loss of human life.  When you use the words “win” and “lose” it’s like putting a period at the end of a sentence.  It signifies the end of a thought.  Period.

How we “define” ourselves is essential.  These two verbs fall far short of any useful means of describing what we, our children and humanity are truly capable of.  We need to stop with the labels and start looking deeper ie: intelligent conversation about issues that are important, whatever they may be.  It’s here that we will begin to finally grow, to learn, to become ultimately more than winners and losers.

Note: This article had some passionate comments which I felt required clarification.  The next article addresses this “Winners and Losers, did I miss the mark”  Thank you, Michael

 

Opinions, Writing

Humanity, Violence and The Serengeti

Like many others, I’m struggling with the “why” regarding the recent shooting in Las Vegas.  Why did he do it?  Was he crazy, angry, frustrated or all/none of the above?  Was there a latent issue, perhaps a medical condition that caused him to take this action?  The general consensus, at this point, is that he was “crazy”.  He must have been, right?  The current evidence suggests that from the window of a hotel he shot and killed 59 people and wounded hundreds more.  Does that act alone define one as “crazy”?  Be careful here, there are many documented cases of military snipers who have each shot and killed at least as many people or more.  Most are described as heroes of their respective countries and the word “crazy” is absent from their biographies.  Aside from their military feats, most were considered to be “normal people”.

The Las Vegas shooter’s life history has been placed under a microscope as law enforcement searches for a reason, the “why”.  We, the people, need an adjective to separate him from “us”.  We need some reason: he was crazy, he was angry and frustrated, he was…, something that we, the “normal people”, are not.  He needs a label and law enforcement seems desperate to apply one.  As of now, his life appeared to be “normal”.  To the rest of us, that is terrifying and unacceptable.  He needs to be labeled, and soon.  To think that all of us “normal people” could be capable of this behavior is “not normal”.

What is “crazy”, what is “normal” and who or what decides the definitions?

Merriam-Webster.com defines the word “crazy” as “1. a: full of cracks or flaws, unsound b: crooked, askew 2. a: not mentally sound: marked by thought or action that lacks reason.  It continues in subcategories using words like “insane, impractical, erratic and unusual” and so on.

Normal is defined as “2. a: according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule or principle. b: conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern. 3. occurring naturally. 4. a: of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development b: free from mental illness: mentally sound” and so on.

The common theme here is “mentally sound”; the word “crazy” suggesting that you’re not and the word “normal” suggesting that you are.  The dictionary defines “mentally sound” as “normal, sane”.

I suggest that the term “normal” is subjective.  Is it East coast normal, West coast normal, European, African, Russian or Iraq normal?  Talk about a broad spectrum!  I honestly have no idea if I’m even “normal”.  I’m reasonably sure that I’m not crazy, at least not normally.

Law Enforcement will keep digging and I’m quite certain that labels will be found and added.  We can then go back to feeling secure in the knowledge that he was different from us and definitely “not normal”.  I say that of course with a wink and a smile.

We can add all of the labels that we want and separate all of the people who, by their acts, are “different” than us.  But the sad reality is that we, the “normal people”, are really “not that normal” and are capable of anything and everything.  “Normal” people have had to go off to war and for a myriad of reasons, take human lives.  Some people have supported the death penalty and abortion, while others have not.  Death has been our constant companion throughout human history, always familiar and never far away, yet we still seem surprised when it occurs naturally and shocked when it is by our own hand or the hand of another.

I’m not suggesting that the shooter in Las Vegas should be pitied or his actions tolerated.  But, I am suggesting that we stop trying to always find excuses to separate “these” people from ourselves.  The reality is, they are us, an ugly reminder of what we are capable of as humans.  It would be nice to move forward as a species, to become less violent, but our track record suggests otherwise and morality cannot be legislated.  Aggression seems to be our default setting, being held in check only by a greater fear of punishment through the enforcement of laws and their subsequent penalties.  In other words, we don’t generally behave because we want to, we behave because we don’t like discomfort.

It’s the Serengeti out there and we’re nowhere near the top of the food chain.  We need to accept this as our reality, act accordingly and hope that evolution will move us in a peaceful direction.  To quote John Young, “If you want to see an endangered species, get up and look in the mirror”.