I Bought (Another) House – Wait, Why?

I Bought (Another) House – Wait, Why?

… or Shut-up State Farm, Your “Nevers” Commercial is Wrong!

A few years ago, I moved out of my house in the ‘burbs into an old apartment in the ceetee. No longer did I have to brave a 45-60 minute commute to dahntahn or have excuses for not going out after getting home in the evening. I once took a bus home at 2:00 AM after a party. It was a new lease on life and I swore I would never buy again. I was free and unmoored; the world was my oyster!

Today, I closed on a new purchase in the Mt Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Wait, what? … I got bored. And at least it’s not in the suburbs, right? Right.

No matter the allure of the jet-setting modern life, as breathlessly hyped by the media, I don’t think humans will ever stop searching for community in some fashion. It’s why we get to know the local bartender or recognize the same food delivery persons. Why we make friends with neighbors we wouldn’t have otherwise befriended. Why we stop to pet the same dog almost every morning. Why we yearn for old friends to move back to the old homestead.

Why we buy a house in our hometown even while wondering how nice it would be to live in Dubai.
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Yellow Indians, White Asians, Black Europeans

Yellow Indians, White Asians, Black Europeans

… And Green Clovers?

It’s easy and sometimes even required in politics to categorize peoples into very simplistic groups. Otherwise it would be difficult to sufficiently demonize whole swaths of the population.

Given its rather binary racialized history, the USA is a nation that is used to clumping minorities by general skin color, rather than ethnicity. Black = black. Yellow or similar epicanthic fold = Asian. Brown = Latino. Brown w/beard = Muslim = Middle Eastern. Red = dead.

There was a time that differences among white people, ie their European ancestry, made a real difference in the body politic of the USA. Italians or southern Europeans stood in contrast to English or eastern European immigrants. Those days have largely passed; mostly culinary differences remain, along with other exaggerated and benign differences (ex. Italians talk with their hands).

Pockets of this-or-that non-white or black ethnicity didn’t move the needle until they started growing in population in the 20th century. But such is the way our country was set, that this increasing diversity has proved to be difficult to categorize and understand by the elite classes.

In the early 20th century, American newspapers were all atwitter over the Dusky Peril:

The negative characterization of ethnic communities that was rampant at the turn to the twentieth century — Sikh immigrants were accused of stealing jobs and even for the emerging use of marijuana in the west during that period — can’t be ignored in how these communities were mistreated.

Though, ostensibly, there is reason other than racial/ethnic discrimination that can be identified as the motive in both acts of violence, a necessary question is warranted around whether the incidents would have been violent, or would have occurred at all, had the victims not been from ethnic communities, and more, whether this tendency is just a relic of the past.

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The Monarchs of the Long Decline

The Monarchs of the Long Decline

There’s a series of passages in Arthur C. Clarke’s classic sci-fi novel, Rendezvous with Rama where he talks about humanity’s reaction to its first encounter with an extraterrestrial object – a long, smooth cylinder traveling harmlessly through space, which passes by the Earth on its way to some other destination.

rendezvous-with-ramaEssentially the world decays into chaos for the better part of a few hundred years. Economies collapse, governments fall. The psychic shock to  humanity’s psyche leaves us weakened and grasping for air.

If we could explore this world up close, what’s would be telling is the example of those who sidestep the whips and scorns of the ensuing centuries. Whose families endure and survive and thrive during the long, slow decline. The ability of certain people to thrive in the darking hours of the night when all others are falling about is fascinating to me. Some of them will have thrived by having been born from the previously wealthy. Those smart enough or lucky enough to be able to preserve generational wealth and hand it down until such time as it does finally run out or the world emerges from the doldrums.

But there are also those who rise to prominence and power amid the discord. Who make their fortunes, and fortunes indeed they can be, off the slim pickings of humanity’s lean years.

During the Gold Rush, the people who grew the richest weren’t necessarily hunched-back panhandlers working the claims. Instead, those who supplied the miners with their pick-axes and shovels and pans grew rich; as well as trousers. Ever heard of Levi Strauss?

In 1853, Strauss moved to San Francisco, opening a dry goods wholesale business as Levi Strauss & Co. and imported fine dry goods—clothing, bedding, combs, purses, handkerchiefs—from his brothers in New York. With a business partner, he eventually began producing blue jeans, a new style of riveted denim work pants which he sold to the panhandlers of the California Gold Rush. The rest is history. Read more about The Monarchs of the Long Decline

Follow the Fold and Stray Some More

Follow the Fold and Stray Some More

In high school, one of the musicals we did was the Guys and Dolls. I recently sat down and watched the 1955 movie version starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine. One of the major plot points of Guys and Dolls is the fight against sin, namely gambling and drinking. One of the first songs, Follow the Fold is as follows:

Follow the fold and stray no more
Stray no more, stray no more
Put down the bottle and we’ll say no more
Follow, follow
Before you take another swallow

Follow the fold and stray no more
Stray no more, stray no more
Tear up your poker deck and play no more
Follow, follow, the fold

What a quaint notion. That private citizens would hold forth against such depravity. Even more incredible that the state would actively prosecute those seeking to gamble. Prohibition didn’t work in the United States. Outlawing gambling hasn’t worked either, as we can see by the growing legalization of casinos throughout the country.

Is there a state which, seeking to grasp ever more tax dollars, hasn’t legalized casinos? Read more about Follow the Fold and Stray Some More

American(ized) #Islam

American(ized) #Islam

Culture and religion, no matter how universal we may want to view the latter’s principles, are inexorably tied. Islam strives to be a religion sans culture, stressing its universality. Due to its founding in the Arabian peninsula, it makes sense that Islamic practice is fundamentally mixed up with tied to the cultures of the Arab world.

But that has not prevented the religion from being adopted in unique ways by non-Arab Muslims around the world. In fact, less than 20% of the world’s Muslims hail from the Middle East. Nigerian Islam and Bangladeshi Islam may share the same underlying principles but their expressions will be different because culture cannot be subsumed under religion.

Region Population Percent of total regional population Percent of world Muslim population
South & Southeast Asia 1,005,507,000 24.8 62.1
Middle East-North Africa 321,869,000 91.2 19.9
Sub-Saharan Africa 242,544,000 29.6 15
Europe 44,138,000 6 2.7
Americas 5,256,000 0.6 0.3
World Total 1,619,314,000 23.4 100

(Source: Wikipedia – Islam by Country/Region)

It stands to reason that American Islam should also have its own character. I’ve written before about the need to find a new way to educate Muslims, that is not so reductive. Richard Mouw, writing in First Things, touches upon a separate complaint that others have brought up:

I read recently that some young Muslims in the United States are complaining that what goes on in their mosques is not “American” enough. They say that the patterns of worship and religious education seem designed to preserve the connections to the countries from which their Muslim communities emigrated, while these young folks want their faith to guide them in their lives in America. Shouldn’t their leaders be doing more, they ask, to help them understand how their faith applies to the country of which they are now citizens?

(H/T as always to Rod Dreher for linking to Mouw’s article). Read more about American(ized) #Islam

Craft… Or the Unexpected Virtue of Working at Your Work

Craft… Or the Unexpected Virtue of Working at Your Work

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of Craft. Of taking what we do and really working on it. Really incorporating skill into a pursuit, be it trivial in nature or not. And how, in this credentialist world, we can often give short shrift to training and deep work in areas which do not require a post-secondary or post-undergraduate degree.

First, Break All the RulesOne of the best books I’ve ever read is First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curtis Coffman. In it, they talk about how great managers minimize their employees’ weaknesses while working on and enhancing their strengths. There’s a section that details how managers of hotels, for instance, work on rewarding their best cleaning staff, the ones who pay special attention to the little details, such as folding a triangle into the ends of toilet paper or putting the little chocolates on the pillow just so, instead of flinging them anywhere on the bed.

It isn’t something we think about much, the idea that being part of the cleaning staff or working the receptions desk at a hotel can be a learned and nurtured skill, at least beyond basic courtesy. But high-end hotels and other well-run establishments pride themselves on hundreds of these details.

The issue comes down to which positions do we feel utilize what combinations of talent vs hard work. There’s no doubt that it can be difficult to be on the cleaning staff. It’s largely a thankless job and although it may be menial, it is no more worthy of thought and good planning and execution. It’s safe to say that while any one person may be capable of doing this work for a short period, doing it for years is not something that comes easy. Menial labor takes anything but a menial mindset. Read more about Craft… Or the Unexpected Virtue of Working at Your Work

8 Months Later, I Still Miss My Doggy

8 Months Later, I Still Miss My Doggy

Eight months ago, I had to put my dog to sleep. Oreo was about 12-14 years old; I had him for six of the best years of my life. Towards the end, he had kidney issues and possible heart issues as well. His legs had grown stiff and he could barely make it around the block whereas he had been able and wanting to walk for hours in his youth. He lost interest in food and dropped a lot of weight. I fear he might have suffered a stroke because he went downhill pretty fast in the last few days.

It was the right thing to do. It was also the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Despite those trying times and no longer having to pick up poop a couple times per day, I regret not one minute that I had him. I don’t regret the difficult first few months when we were adjusting to each other. I don’t regret that it took years for his personality to come out. I don’t regret the last year when I barely took a vacation outside Pittsburgh. I don’t regret the difficulties of him having more and more accidents in his last year when he hadn’t had more than one accident in the previous 3-4 years.

Oreo-contented

Dog owners (ugh I do hate using ‘owner’ but it’s the word that works) often like to joke that we prefer our dogs to people. Sometimes, that’s true. My mom used to joke that I would never find a girl as dedicated to me as Oreo. Good. I don’t want that in a human relationship. Read more about 8 Months Later, I Still Miss My Doggy

The Moral Therapeutic Deism of ISIS

The Moral Therapeutic Deism of ISIS

Rod Dreher, in a characteristically brilliant post entitled When ISIS Ran the American South, reminds us that no society is too far removed, historically-speaking, from the brutality inflicted by the likes of ISIS.  There is a time within recorded memory, not ancient history, when Americans did unspeakable things to each other and made a religion out of their actions. Lest we forget, lest we start to navel gaze too much.

ISIS filmed that poor Jordanian pilot burning to death as an act of revenge and terror. We call those Islamist fanatics animals. But white people did this often, and sometimes even made a public spectacle of it. “The white men, women, and children present watched the horrific murders while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere.”

By Fred Gildersleeve (1881-1958) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The whole post and the comments section are well worthy of your time. Of particular import is this comment:

I had to understand how all of this happened. How could Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians in the South NOT have put a stop to this when they had the social and cultural power to do so? Why did Southern Evangelicals become chaplains to the racist South? So, I investigated it and wrote a book about it. I had to get answers. What I ultimately found is that their main concern, initially, was that they protect their own way of life and their own prosperity. Racism was a way to do that for Southern whites and religion became useful when it was seen as was a way to give their impulse sanction. But, we still do this today. We still remake God in our own image and see Him as a means to an end – our own end of blessing our life. That is what Southern Christians (and non-Christians did – but you know like I do that everyone thought they were a Christian, or claimed to be. Almost everyone, anyway). They were the original Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. They devised a religion that worked for them and supported them in the construction of the society that they wanted. It was a mess. [emphasis mine]

It occurs to me that this is the very thing which ISIS is doing. Not simply that they are using my religion, but that they are constructing their very own religion. Years ago, while traveling through Morocco, I watched a BBC Asia interview of a Malaysian Islamic terrorist who was serving a long prison sentence. The interviewer held up a Qur’an and asked the man to point out what passage he used to justify his violent views. The terrorist declared that his justification lay not in the Qur’an. But that he and his ilk were following the teachings and orders of Osama Bin Laden and other ‘leaders’ who had called for violent jihad. It’s worth repeating the comment from above:

They devised a religion that worked for them and supported them in the construction of the society that they wanted. It was a mess.

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Tribal Solutions to Ben Affleck’s Dust-Up with Bill Maher over Islam

Tribal Solutions to Ben Affleck’s Dust-Up with Bill Maher over Islam

Or… Infidels Have No Place at the Table

By now you’ve probably heard of or seen the clip of Ben Affleck angrily defending Islam against the invectives of Bill Maher and Sam Harris. Here’s the clip in case you missed it:

Did you watch it? I confess that I haven’t watched it, nor am I likely to do so because I can already tell it’s just… too much. I generally enjoy the rantings of my fellow Irishman Bill Maher on sundry topics but I have to hit mute any time he starts railing on Islam. I’ve watched Bill for years and he has consistently blanketed all Muslims with the same characterizations. That there may even be a portion of the population pushing back or that there may need to be more nuance than a single characterization of one billion people’s faith doesn’t pass muster with him.

Harris penned a defense of his appearance on his blog. It’s definitely worth a read. A couple excerpts of note:

Kristof made the point that there are brave Muslims who are risking their lives to condemn “extremism” in the Muslim community. Of course there are, and I celebrate these people too. But he seemed completely unaware that he was making my point for me—the point being, of course, that these people are now risking their lives by advocating for basic human rights in the Muslim world.

After the show, Kristof, Affleck, Maher, and I continued our discussion. At one point, Kristof reiterated the claim that Maher and I had failed to acknowledge the existence of all the good Muslims who condemn ISIS, citing the popular hashtag #NotInOurName. In response, I said: “Yes, I agree that all condemnation of ISIS is good. But what do you think would happen if we had burned a copy of the Koran on tonight’s show? There would be riots in scores of countries. Embassies would fall. In response to our mistreating a book, millions of Muslims would take to the streets, and we would spend the rest of our lives fending off credible threats of murder. But when ISIS crucifies people, buries children alive, and rapes and tortures women by the thousands—all in the name of Islam—the response is a few small demonstrations in Europe and a hashtag.”

Harris is right, of course, that there are dangerous people and interpretations of Islam that must be dealt with. I think he underestimates the degree to which ‘other’ Muslims cry out over atrocities committed in our religion’s name, in no small part because it’s not as sexy to cover on CNN or Fox News.

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Futureproofing Against Tech Extinctions

Futureproofing Against Tech Extinctions

In a New York Times article yesterday, Farhad Manjoo wrote about how to survive the next tech extinction.  VHS vs Betamax. HD DVD vs Blu-Ray. Netscape vs Internet Explorer. Nook vs Kindle, as cited by Manjoo. We’ve seen them come and go. So, how do we not get caught out in the rain?

Here’s the list of his recommendations.

  1. Buy Apple’s hardware
  2. Use Google’s services
  3. Buy media from Amazon
  4. Bet on connectors

Manjoo focuses on a combination of good hardware, cloud services and interoperability. Interoperability and portability are really the biggest keys here. Take a service or app and use it across device types in order not to be left out in the cold in case of the tech apocalypse. (Now if the nanomites decide to shut everything down, we’re all out of luck anyway).

Apocalypse Ahead

Buy Apple Hardware

I’m not a huge fan of Manjoo’s blanket hardware choice of Apple. I prefer Windows-run machines for laptop or desktop but I don’t mind iOS for tablet. And iPhone ain’t too shabby either but I like Android and it’s not as far behind iOS as Manjoo posits. It’s not that he chooses Apple but more so that he chooses only Apple hardware/operating systems, ignoring anything that runs Windows, Android or Linux. Regardless, hardware is possibly the least important choice.

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