Miscellaneous

On Childhood

In the past few weeks my attention has been drawn to repeated posts on social media claiming
“I survived free range parenting!” and “These kids today don’t have a real childhood. So sad.”

Just stop. What makes your childhood better than someone’s today? What makes you think a kid who plays video games or texts their friends on a smart phone doesn’t have a childhood?

Here’s the definition of childhood: the period during which a person is a child.

Nope, nothing in there about no Internet and social media and only playing outside. Read that definition again. If they’re a child, they have a childhood. End of discussion.

Here’s the problem. The childhood they are having is not the same childhood you had, and you can’t seem to understand that and thus protest on social media.

Instead, people seem to think that since it’s not the same as what they had that it’s wrong. That their childhood was better. That it was how a kid should grow up. Do you have any idea how arrogant and condescending that mindset is?

Rewind one hundred years and the bicycle, the quintessential childhood toy, was not even considered a children’s toy. Did those poor kids growing up without bikes not have a childhood? What about 200 years ago when it was more likely that they were helping the family provide instead of going to school? Where did their childhood go?

They still had a childhood, just a different one from the one you and I experienced. And this is only the Western world we’re talking about here, not even touching on regions not as fortunate.

The technology kids are picking up today is staggering. I know people who can barely use a computer and I know kids who understand more about today’s technology than many people I work with as an information security engineer. Why is this? Because they’re growing up with it.

The crux of it all is that kids today have access to technology that just did not exist when previous generations were growing up. These kids have access to so much information it is mind-boggling and they will only be better because of that exposure.

So please, please, just stop pretending you and your childhood are superior.

One Year Removed

This year is the first year I am a true veteran on Veteran’s Day. My tenure on active duty with the US Navy ended in December of 2013.

In the military those who choose not to reenlist are said to be “getting out” or have “gotten out.” Often this takes the form of “Are you getting out or are you staying in?” being asked by all manner of people: career advisers, civilian friends and coworkers and fellow service members.

“Getting out” is a term I have been thinking about this past week and I have decided I do not like the phrase. It has a negative connotation about military service. Is active duty service something someone who hasn’t done it can 100% relate to? No. It is an “in or out” club. However, I do not think choosing to leave active duty should be referred to “getting out.”

When you read or hear about people who grow up in rough circumstances they often talk about how they “got away from it all” or “they got out”. People also “get out of prison” after their time has been served. Military service is not the same. While you are under contract and sign most of your life away to the service it should not be seen as an escape that you are leaving. Military service is a not a prison. It may feel like that at times, but it is an honor to serve and choosing to leave active duty service is not an escape from poor circumstances.

From now on I will try my best to not say “I got out” when referring to my active duty service. It was just my time to move on to the next chapter in my life. I am thankful for the opportunities the US Navy presented me and without them I would not be who I am or where I am today.

So thank a veteran. Not the generic “Thank you for your service.” Please don’t say that. That phrase has become so ingrained in the American psyche that it’s no different from hello. It has lost meaning. Also don’t just throw up a “Shout out to all my veterans! XOXO” on Facebook and call it good. Find someone you know and give a personal thank you. Less than 1% of all Americans volunteer to serve, but I am sure you know someone who made that choice.

Give a meaningful thank you. Think about why you are thanking a veteran and then tell them that. They hear “Thank you for your service”, and not just on Veteran’s Day, more times than you could imagine. Put some meaning behind your words.

I am proud to call many of those I served with over the years, many of whom are still standing the watch on active duty, my friends. It was a pleasure to serve alongside each and every one of you.

I am beyond thankful for the support from my family and friends, some of whom have now chosen to join active service as well and especially my sister who signed on the line alongside me. While you may thank us for our service, let us thank all of you for your support. The men and women volunteering to serve in the greatest fighting force on the planet could not do it without your love and support. Thank you.

Ebola and You

I am again obligated to go on a semi-rant about hysteria caused by the media: Ebola will not destroy the US. We are not going to have a pandemic with chaos and death in the streets.

Here are the facts: Ebola is a deadly virus, with a high mortality rate. Ebola has an incubation period two days to three weeks, but the average is around eight to ten days. After that period the patient becomes visibly ill. Not the “oh I have the sniffles ill” more like “I’m delusional with fever, sweating, joint, muscle and abdominal pain with a splitting headache and a bad rash and could soon possibly die” kind of ill.

The kind of ill where you just lay in bed and hope beyond hope that it will be over soon kind of ill. Not the go for a jaunty stroll down the street kind of ill.

Most people who freak out about this disease panic because of the first fact, that it is deadly. They confuse the fact that it is “viral” and relate it with the most common virus they know: influenza. The biggest difference is influenza does transmit easily. Ebola does not.

Stop comparing the two.

Ebola is not transmitted by people who are in the incubation period, only by those who are visibly afflicted by the crippling symptoms of the virus.

Here’s how you CAN’T contract the Ebola virus: being near someone with Ebola, seeing someone with a cough on the street corner or the subway, hearing the word Ebola mentioned 10,000 times on social media.

If you make a habit of pressing open, bleeding wounds together with your buddies or letting strangers vomit/spit in your face or letting them get bodily secretions into open wounds or if you like to cozy up to visibly ill people for a wet tonguey kiss then you could contract Ebola. But if you do all that I don’t want to be around you anyways, deadly virus or not.

The biggest difference between Liberia/West Africa and the United States when it comes to the Ebola virus is basic medical awareness from common citizens and robust medical facilities staffed with caregivers who know what they’re doing with proper quarantine protocols.

The other big difference is Americans know and believe Ebola is real. Many people in West Africa think it is a myth, so they go about trying to cure the illness with folk remedies and continue unsanitary death rites like cleaning dead bodies and embalming them without adequate protection to prevent accidental exposure.

Bottom line: quit flipping out like a bunch of ignorant apes because some media pundit wants more ratings so they can sell more ad space to make more money. Just stop.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

Around the beginning of August my Facebook feed began showing numerous videos of friends and family doing the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. I figured it was only a matter of time before someone in that mix of friends and family decided they would challenge me. Given that I had yet to be challenged I considered what I would do when the inevitable came around.

On August 18th I was challenged twice, once by my dad and the other by my cousin (and her roommate by proxy since they did it together).

So here’s what decided to do, and it’s what I feel I do best: write.

First off, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that bit by bit reduces the motor function of those afflicted. As the disease runs it’s debilitating course, which can last years, the sufferer loses all motor control, relying on the aid of others for tasks which are often taken for granted, such as eating, walking, even standing. Nothing is ever simple with ALS.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous person afflicted with ALS, apart from Lou Gehrig. Hawking has been living with ALS since 1963, when he was given two years to live at the age of 21. His 72nd birthday was in January 2014. For a closer look at the disease, and many life lessons at that, look no further than the Mitch Albom book Tuesdays With Morrie. The titular Morrrie is dying of ALS throughout the course of the book.

Now, onto this, the latest of social media fads.

This whirlwind of videos about the “Ice Bucket Challenge” began long before the summer as a way for professional golfers to raise money for their favorite charities. Most of the time it was them just trying to one-up each other, more about the goofiness and showmanship.

It gained traction in the US when Greg Norman issued the challenge to “Today” host Matt Lauer who accepted and donated his money to the Hospice of Palm Beach County.

Around the same time another golfer challenged his cousin whose husband has suffered from ALS for 11 years. She donated to ALS. From there it spread to a baseball player who himself has lost the ability to walk from ALS. From there #StrikeOutALS was born and the ALS Association became the de facto charity for this #IceBucketChallenge.

A month later is where I come in.

Philanthropy is defined as “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed often by the generous donation of money to good causes”

Philanthropy comes in two forms. Those who donate time and money and champion causes they believe in out of a desire to help others.

The others who donate money so they can have some building or fund named after them. It’s still benefiting the greater good and helping people but has a narcissistic “Look at me, I care!” attached to it.

This “Ice Bucket Challenge” nonsense is the latter.

Everyone posting these videos is doing what they’ve been doing on Facebook and other social platforms for the past decade: going with whatever the current trend is.

Remember planking? This is pretty much the same thing. #TBT? Same thing. Those giraffe pictures that were a plague a few months ago? How about the “Truth is…” Or “I like it…” or “That moment…” All of them are fads. This Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing different.

The options for the Ice Bucker Challenge are “Dowse yourself in ice water or donate $100 to the ALS Association.”

Why is the “donate $100 to the ALS Association” the negative here? From seeing the videos all over Facebook it appears most Americans would rather just dump a bucket of water on themselves instead of donating money to good cause. It’s gotten to the point where I just ignore most of them that show up in my feed.

That leads me to my next point. Are you aware that the ALS Association spends only 27% of its budget on research into ALS? Another 19% go into “Patient and Community Services.” 46% of the money donated goes to research and patient care. An additional 32% goes to what is listed as Education, which could be good but I don’t have enough information to make that determination. The rest is spent on Fundraising and Administration. That amounts to almost 25% of all funding just for administrative efforts. That number should be much lower.

In 2011 the former CEO of this nonprofit took in a tidy $281,250 between salary and benefits.

But the point of all this isn’t to rant against the ALS Association or even the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s just a preface to my response to being issued the challenge, so here’s my response:

For the past seven years I have donated to research I care about and helped communities I live in and then some. I have never had the desire to trumpet “Look at me, I care about this! I gave money to this cause!” all over social media while I do it. I ran in charity 10K for foster children a few months ago and my mom asked me to let her know next time I did something like that so they could contribute. The idea hadn’t even occurred to me.

This is the first time I have ever posted about it online in the seven years I’ve been doing so. The only reason I am doing so now is because I have been dared to donate money to a cause. That’s what this amounts to, a dare. “I dare you to do this good thing.” What a novel, and insipid, idea.

I will continue to contribute long after this craze has ended. Because that’s all this is. Some craze that everyone seems to have jumped on board with because they love the attention and trying to be quirky in how they drench themselves so they can avoid donating money. Like donating money to a foundation for a disease without a cure that affects some 30,000 Americans was the worst thing they could do.

People shouldn’t need to be guilt tripped and shamed on social media to “promote the cause”. I have seen “Doesn’t count! $100 dollars! Hahaha!” Like it was embarrassing. I’ve seen people react with “Hey thanks asshole!” because donating money is such a despicable thing to do.

Here’s my call out: I’ve been contributing for years. Have you? No need to answer. Just a call for self reflection.

So if you’re still reading this then consider yourself challenged. Challenged to question why you’re even doing this ice bucket challenge. After that, if you’re still set on doing it and agree with the cause or the means, then by all means, go ahead and dowse yourself. Or better yet, just donate the damn money to a charity you care about instead of plastering videos all over social media.

An Addendum:

I realize people are having fun with this. That’s good. I also realize it has generated a ton of money for the ALS Association. That’s better.

I am aware that many people who have done this challenge also donate plenty of time and resources to other causes, without the narcissistic streak. I am also aware that many people both take their lumps and donate.

I am not trying to detract from these points. This is just my take on the Ice Bucket Challenge and I am sure I have pissed a few people off. You do what you want.

Facebook Messenger And You

Everyone losing their mind over the supposed privacy invasion from the Facebook Messenger app for iPhone and Android has been driving me a bit crazy. The articles you’re reading and sharing are nothing but hysteric fear mongering to drive up page views and here’s why:

Every messaging app requests similar permissions – able to use SMS, camera, pictures, contact info, know when calls come etc for one reason: so it can work. You can’t send photos through the app without the app being able to access your camera or photos. Nor could you make voice calls through it without access to the microphone etc. You can’t call contacts without the app being able to know what their phone number is.

The reason these articles say “without permission” is that the app will ask the first time you try to do something (this is for iPhone, Android just accepts permission for all features in one approval) for permission to use that feature. Then it will not ask again. The “without permission” part comes in so they don’t have to ask you every single time you try to send a friend a picture of your cat through the Messenger app.

So if this “insanity” is too much for you then go ahead and uninstall almost every app on your phone since they all have permissions like this. You had better believe your beloved Snapchat can see your contacts and photos without your permission. Even games can see your call log, so they can pause the game when calls come in.

Bottom line: This is the Internet. People lie on the Internet. People will post anything for ad revenue. Do some research before losing your mind and screaming bloody murder in the streets.

One last note. If you’re upset that Facebook is splitting off the Messenger into its own app. Too bad. You don’t pay a dime for Facebook so you can’t say what they can and can’t do. Deal with it.

Ever Curious

Anyone who has spent any decent amount of time around me is aware of my habit of looking everything up. American society is obsessed with being as anti-social as possible in public thanks to the advent of smart phones. Most of these people are perusing their Facebook newsfeed, checking Pinterest or reading the latest whatever it is they publish on “news sites” like BuzzFeed. Probably some vague list of “uncommon” things people do.

I happen to be the person on a smart phone that probably has Google or wikipedia open. I could be reading about who wrote the script for some movie, or what song writer wrote a particular country song or who did what when and how they did it and probably the name of their dog too.

I look up everything.

This came up today because a few days ago I sent a picture of  tattoo  (taken from Pinterest, of course) to a friend of mine to  illustrate a certain style I liked. Now, I didn’t actually go to Pinterest, it came up in Google when looking for watercolor negative space tattoos. I never looked more into where it came from. I just thought it was neat. End of story.

Enso

Now today I pulled up YouTube to listen to the Knife Party remix of Swedish House Mafia’s Save The World. Scrolling down through the comments (not a good idea on YouTube, most days) I noticed that someone’s user photo was a near identical version of that circle in red.

Now I was curious. No way was that a coincidence.

Out comes the Google-fu. I tried searching for “painted circle logo” but that didn’t come up with much. Instead I went back to the source and punched in “painted circle tattoo” and sure enough dozens of photos of the same brushed circle came up. The fourth image was that circle with ENSO written in the middle and the article was titled Circle of Zen – Explaining the Ensō. I didn’t pay much attention to either of these, with “circle of zen” having caught my attention already.

ENSO

Instead of following the image (I never tend to do that, not sure why that is) next came up Googling “circle of zen” to see what I could find. I was not disappointed as the first entry was Wikipedia’s entry for Ensō. A quick  perusal of the article reveals the ensō originates from Zen Buddhism and it is a hand-drawn circle, in one or two brushstrokes, to

“express a moment when the mind is free to  let the body create”.

And “the ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics”.

That’s something new I didn’t know.

In hindsight had I followed the original tattoo, from Russell Van Schaick Tattoos, I would have seen he marked the tumblr/instagram photo with #zen #zencircle and #ensotattoo. But oh well.

All of this stemmed off of a random picture from YouTube. Ever curious.

The Myth of Guilty Pleasures

The phrase guilty pleasure is construed to mean something you find enjoyable but you should embarrassed to admit you enjoy. When you are fond of a musician, television show, movie etc that by public standards is “embarrassing” you are said to have a guilty pleasure. If you tell your friends you love something and they laugh at you, you just admitted to having a guilty pleasure.

Guilty pleasures are a myth.

You should never be embarrassed about enjoying any form of media or activity. Does that catchy new pop song make you feel happy? How about that sappy soap opera on television? Maybe you love reading steamy romance novels because they let your mind wander. If these activities or interests make your life happier, why should you be embarrassed to admit to enjoying them?

Public pressure to conform in interests and activity is what generates this need to feel self-conscious about ones interests. Most of the time they are things that do not conform to gender role perceptions: a guy enjoying Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, or a woman who enjoys heavy metal despite working in the fashion industry. Both of those examples (read: stereotypes) exude the classic aura of a guilty pleasures.

When someone admits that something is a guilty pleasure for them they are doing two things.

One, they are admitting to how they allow public pressure to shape their view of normalcy. That all depends on what they find to be a guilty pleasure since everyone may find interests embarrassing that someone else may find normal. A lot of that has to do with their environment. The guy who enjoys Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift might not find it embarrassing if he is raising daughters who listen to them on repeat. Another guy may be embarrassed to admit to jamming to Taylor Swift because his gym buddies would mock him and question his “manliness”.

Two, they are providing a window into what their true interests are. If someone admits to enjoying something as a guilty pleasure chances are that is among their most enjoyable activities. The open expression of those interests is being suppressed by the pressure to conform to normalcy. Don’t allow it, engage someone regarding their guilty pleasures. Maybe you share interests and will make good friends, or maybe your friendship will be stronger if you’re already friends.

I’m not advocating dumping your friends because they think your love affair with campy 80s cartoons is silly. Instead try to make new friends based on your common interests, or find an outlet where you can communicate and relate with other people who share your view. Reddit is a great place for this, no matter how unknown or out there your interest is there is a subreddit for it.

Do not admit to guilty pleasures, instead admit to the things you enjoy and make your life happier.