As a professor of Critical Thinking at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA, my entire academic life I have been constantly receiving similar feedback on my observations and opinions, something along the line of, “I have not really thought of it that way before.” Jimmy’s intention is to develop critical thinking skills, look at things a different way and to question everything. I speak and write of all aspects of life, from Buddhism to twerking, from the spiritual to the profane, from meditation to pornography. It all makes for great conversation and analysis.

So sit back, read and/or listen, and question me as we learn in the tensions of life.

Thoughts on Haters

Criticism: The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

There are essentially two types of criticism. The first is the type of criticism that focuses on thoughts, ideas and arguments. I like this. This blog is devoted to that level of criticism. The second is the type that criticizes people and their character. I do not like this. Not a fan.

If I do not particularly care for someone, well, first off, I would probably never tell the person unless there was a compelling reason to do so. Yet if I had to tell them, for whatever reason, I would focus on their behaviors, thoughts and/or ideas that I find problematic…not their character or assuming motivation for what they do.

I am a professor. I am professor with an opinion. I am a professor who openly and freely shares his opinion.  I am a very outspoken professor who invites criticism. I actually enjoy being criticized -in the argumentative sense- and challenged. I seek it. How on earth are we ever going to discover new ideas and thought forms unless we continually challenge the status quo thought forms around us? Criticism is not only acceptable…it is sorely needed for a culture to evolve for the better. Just ask Plato or Socrates.

Given this, it does not take a math major to deduce just how much criticism I get…and I love it.

The great majority of people are really wonderful in terms of their feedback towards me -positive, supportive, understanding, and, above all, quite civil and polite. I was evaluated by my peers and students this past semester and every comment received was positive in nature. I was very pleased to earn a stellar evaluation in every sense. Yes, I, like most people, need positive affirmation in my life…it feels good. It is really nice to know you are making a difference in people’s lives as you contribute to the cultural conversation.

Yet there will always be a minority of people who do not just personally criticize, they hate…in fact, they are haters. dear-haters-i-have-so-much-more-for-you-to-be-mad-at-be-patient

If you would like to see a sampling of haters, go to nearly any youtube video and read the comments. Many are mean, spiteful and angry…and, frankly, I am not sure why.

I have had my fair share of haters in my day and I totally get it at one level. In a world full of different personalities, there will be inevitable clashes…I totally get not liking someone, being irritated by someone, completely disagreeing with nearly everything someone stands for…I get that part. I have a, fortunately, very small group of people in my life that I feel this way towards. And, guess what? I rarely think about these people as they are not worth my time and energy for me to do so.

It is the proactive hating part I just do not get. Who the hell has the time?

I suppose in one sense the day you have haters is the day you realize you have achieved something in life.

One of my favorite comedic bits is Jimmy Kimmel’s Celebrity Mean Tweets in which celebrities read very hateful tweets about themselves written by others in a very self-condescending display of spiteful humor. It is fairly simple to conclude that individuals who put themselves out in a public way will be criticized, even further, hated by a small number of people who actually have time and energy for such gross negativity.

I was discussing this idea with Rene’ after she insisted I delete a very hateful comment that someone posted on this blog. I did publish it at first though she opined that it goes against the very nature of this blog -which, she correctly contends, is based on arguing thoughts and ideas- and not being mean spirited and, well, hating. After further reflection she was right, so I deleted it. Wanna hate and be mean? Go to ratemyprofessor or youtube…or find another blog to hate on. (In an ironic twist it does sound as though I am hating the haters, does it not?)

She mentioned a passage from a book she is currently reading by Elizabeth Gilbert entitled, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear who has a different take on those who criticize or even hate:

Pigeonholing is something people need to do in order to feel that they have set the chaos of existence into some kind of reassuring order. Thus, people will stick you into all sorts of boxes. They’ll call you a genius, or a fraud, or an amateur, or a pretender, or a want to be, or has been, or a hobbyist, or an also ran, or a rising star, or a master of reinvention. They may say flattering things about you, or they may say dismissive things about you. They may call you a mere genre novelist, or a mere children’s book illustrator, or a mere commercial photographer, or mere community theater actor, or a mere home cook, or mere weekend musician, or mere crafter, or a mere landscape painter, or a mere whatever. It doesn’t matter in the least. Let people have their opinions. More than that – let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing… or even their comprehension… in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.

Hmmmm…I like this. I suppose haters are simply ones trying to make sense of their own lives and need to vilify selected others in order to do so. Thus it says far more about them then it can possibly say about you. I suppose we should not put too much stock in either high praise or the hate as people need both their villains and heroes, deserved or not, in order to make sense of their own existence.

So civilly criticize away people! I believe it was the motor city madman, Ted Nugent, who once said, “If you are not making waves, you’re not paddling hard enough.”

I like that. I think that is pretty good advice for all of us. And maybe, just maybe, you can have haters as well -in case you don’t already. And then you can have the honor of knowing you are instrumental in the making of someone else’s personal narrative.

Thoughts on Achievement, Real Achievement

As an observer and critic of culture in general, I strive to lead a consistent and rational life while frequently asking the question, “why?”—most often in relation to cultural customs. For example, if you were to sneeze in front of me I would not say “god bless you,” “bless you” or even “gesundheit” simply for the reason it makes absolutely no sense.  I have no power to bless you and even if I did, why would I do it simply because your body reacted to some dust up your nose?

I have no interest in perpetuating old wives’ tales and medieval customs.

There is another strange cultural custom which is the central thesis of this blog ….and please do not think I’m a dick (too late?).

I am at the age and stage in life when many of my children’s friends -not to mention my students who are in a similar age range -are getting engaged and/or pregnant.  I find the reactions to those individuals who announce this news –typically met with congratulatory joy and perhaps tears of happiness – rather strange and unreasonable.

Is getting married and/or having kids something we must congratulate one for doing? If so, why? When you consider most people who get married probably should not (have you seen the divorce rate?) and those who are having babies probably should not, what is there to be happy about?

Getting married is EASY. Super EASY in fact.  I have blogged before concerning marriage and divorce while opining that it is FAR more difficult to get a permit for a swimming pool in your backyard than it is to sign your life away to someone for the rest of your life.  This is ass backwards my friends.

Getting married is easy, yet staying married is one of the most difficult ventures a human being can make in life. Why congratulate someone for the easy part? If forced to congratulate someone, why not congratulate those who have made it through the most difficult parts –and stayed together?

Babies? In most cases they are super easy to make -very fun to make in fact.  I have no interest in congratulating anyone for achieving a successful union of the sperm and egg after an enjoyable romp in the hay. Again, that is easy since it does not demand intelligence, hard work, discipline nor much effort at all. Being an effective and loving parent is SUPER hard…it takes time, effort, and money to the point that you are now living one hundred percent for someone else.

If we must congratulate someone, let’s at least congratulate those who have successfully raised happy and productive human beings that make our culture a better one.

Yet, I would not even want to do that. Why not?  I believe strongly that we should recognize and congratulate those who have done something extraordinary in life and deserve recognition.

And here is what I am NOT saying: We should not recognize, show support, or give encouragement to these people through formal ritual…conversely, I think it is great. Yet, we must recognize it for what it is and it is not an “achievement.”

Perhaps it would be a good idea to also give recognition to those who opt not to get married and not to have kids as well. After all, they certainly will not contribute to the divorce rate nor will they raise potentially delinquent children…not to mention they will certainly not add to overpopulation.

Staying together and raising productive children should be the norm in society and does not make someone a hero if he or she accomplishes this basic cultural function. The more we congratulate and hail those who are doing what we all should be doing to operate as a functional society, the more that normal activity becomes the rarity.

Conversely, rather than hailing those who achieve the norm, perhaps it would be a better plan to shame those who do not.

My stomach turned when I saw the following meme:

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Special? Special is defined as, “distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual.” Really? I suppose the underlying assumption is that you have to be out of the ordinary and “special” to be a good father -thus the average guy does not stand a chance while the norm is most fathers are not “dads.” Sad.

I have never murdered someone nor have committed a crime. Should I be congratulated and honored?  Or should I be seen as one who exemplifies the norm of society? No pat on the back necessary.

I want to save the fuel in my congratulations tank for those who have worked really hard and gone above and beyond to achieve an objective.  Someone who earns a college degree, opens a successful business, volunteers to help those in need or perhaps lands a great job or promotion that they worked very hard for are just some of those achievements that are worthy of honor and congratulations.

The last time I congratulated myself was the day I received a letter in the mail informing me of my newly achieved tenure.  I was proud of that accomplishment because all the work leading up to that moment flashed before my eyes -the difficulty in obtaining the degrees, the years of part-time, low paying work to build up my resume’ and the many obstacles I had to climb over to get to this new place.  As far as being a responsible citizen who pays his taxes, loves his kids and generally obeys the law (speeding not being one of them) I am pleased with these things yet I am not proud of these things.

Yes, getting engaged or having a child is certainly a marker and milestone yet it can be a very good or very bad milestone…as in, “the day I walked down the aisle was the beginning of the end.” Again, I am not suggesting we do not recognize milestones, rather let us see them for what they are, markers, that may or may not mark something special.

So as I question culture and its customs, perhaps it is high time we stop congratulating what should be the norm and save our compliments and felicitations for those who have really earned it.

 

 

Snapchat

One of my objectives in life is to NEVER be one of those old farts that casually criticizes the younger generations for their overall lifestyle and choices…be it music, clothing, trends -all of it- as in, “The damn kids today know nothing about respect and hard work,” or something along the lines of, “They call that shit today music? Really? In my day music was music.”

Ugh. I really never want to be that guy…and it is so easy to be.

In order not to fall victim to this “old fart” mentality, it requires that we make proactive choices to seek, experience and understand where the younger generations are coming from and why. If we do not mind becoming old judgmental codgers, we can just sit back and do nothing -as it will happen all on its own- that is just how our brains function. However, as a college educator, it is particularly imperative for me to constantly explore opportunities to engage with youth culture and seek to understand it…perhaps now more than ever in the age of technology.

As a result of this lifestyle choice, both my Sirius and conventional radio preset buttons include both contemporary rap, hip-hop and pop in addition to my “70’s at 7” and class rock choices. It is not all unusual to for me to listen to Van Halen’s “Eruption” one minute and Drake’s “Hotline Bling” the next. I even mix in a little classical and chill music on occasion.

However, perhaps the biggest eye-opening choice I have recently made was securing the app Snapchat, where participants can send videos and pictures to their “friends” that last about 7 seconds and then disappear into the internet ether. If I understand correctly (my youngest son Stevie is my source for this information), Snapchat was at first very much used for “sexting” and carried the nickname, “Dickchat.”

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Not so much anymore. I have now had Snapchat for about 2 months and have a yet to see, fortunately, a penis nor, unfortunately, a titty or two. What I do see are short snippets of people’s everyday life, including everything from, say, a video of them in the car lip syncing to a song, pictures of their cute kittens, or, perhaps, just everyday boring life stuff like eating or shopping –usually posted in a humorous and lighthearted manner with entertaining and creative captions, not to mention special effects.

I must admit that at first I was very put off by Snapchat. Why? In short, it appeared to be a social media that was incapable of mediating any relevant content. It was all superficial, silly, time wasting, entertainment…it actually even depressed me at first thinking, “This is what today’s generation spends its time doing?” Yet, as one committed to my anti-old codger philosophy, I not only chose to keep it but try to engage with it on a regular basis.

Now, a month or so later, I actually have a lot of fun using it.  It does not take a lot of time or energy to engage with it…you can actually snap several times a day and it probably does not take more than a minute or two of the day, at least for me.

I have come to realize that every generation has its specific form of entertainment. When I was 19 I used to go to my favorite arcade, Pinball Plus, and spend hours playing video games. If people want to spend their recreational time sending pics of, well, really nothing, what is the harm? When I was that age I was electronically trying to maneuver out of the way of falling barrels chucked by a large gorilla called Donkey Kong. In comparison, Snapchat is for Mensa members.

Why was I so judgmental of it at first? Because I, like most humans, have a very difficult time with change and adapting to trends that are not truly understood. At times we have to force ourselves to engage in things that are well outside our comfort zone and previous “normal” experiences –it’s called growth and expansion while our brains crave it.

I am a huge fan of recreation and entertainment. I believe escaping from the monotony of our everyday lives is a good thing. I tend to get critical of entertainment (ala Neal Postman) when areas of culture that demand serious conversations, devolve into entertainment…be it the news, education, religion, or, thank you Donald Trump, politics.

But bullshit entertainment? I love it…we need it.

I hardly think anyone is mistaking Snapchat for serious cultural conversation. It is banal, silly entertainment that is mildly amusing and there is nothing wrong with that and, in fact, there may be something very right about it. Our college Dean, Rick, just recently sent me a study from the University of Michigan that suggests Snapchatting actually makes one happy.

I also believe the vast popularity of Snapchat among youth does point to some deeper, underlying cultural trends that are quite revealing. What does the appeal of vapid content -content that is there one second and is permanently gone the next- say about the hugely transient and quickly evolving nature of our collective cultural experiences due to technology? What does the appeal of sharing flippant experiences of our everyday life say about our need to connect with others -even in our most mundane moments?  What does it say about human nature that we like to peek into the details of others’ lives? The human being needs to be relevant, seen, heard, and valued with the larger community –a basic human need that has never changed. Perhaps Snapchat is a simple, lighthearted way to partially fill this gap in our lives.

So there you have it from by FAR the oldest person on Snapchat. Hit me up people…my screen name is jimmyu…snap with me ya’ll.

And, regardless of your age (old codger philosophy knows no age) dare to take a step away from an old fart mentality -it can actually be kinda fun.

 

 

Rebroadcast: Watch A (Once) Live Podcast With Jimmy, Tessa, and Jordan From New Orleans

Last May 27 we did a podcast form New Orleans and had the go-pro rolling. If you want to see a podcast…check it out. Like typical Urb conversation, we talk a lot of weird stuff…and it is usually centered around saving the planet in some way, shape, or form. You can even find out what kids are on Team Dad and who is on Team Mom -and why. Enjoy!

 

Disma….uh, Disney: The 5 Reasons I Am Not A Fan

During a class discussion concerning the consolidation of media ownership –in which basically a handful of corporations own essentially 90% of the media in the United States- it occurred to me that I find anything Disney, be it theme parks, corporate dealings, movies, music –so very disturbing. Yet, at the time, I was not sure why.

So I promised the class I would write a blog on it for the sake of helping me to clarify and articulate my thoughts on the matter.

Blogging really helps me organize my often scattered ideas floating about in my head. After doing some thinking and writing -a process that files my disparate ideas into a concise narrative (I hope)- I realize there are 5 specific reasons Disney thoroughly irritates me. Enjoy…or just tell me what a dick I am…I am used to it.

1. They are greedy bastards. The entertainment newspaper, Variety, reported in 2014, “The Walt Disney Co. ended its fiscal year on a significant high note, reporting a record $48.8 billion in sales, up 8%, and 22% improvement in net income of $7.5 billion, handily besting analysts’ expectations.” Now, in fairness, Wal-Mart earns nearly 5 times this amount, but that is a different blog for a different day -as I feel I lose a part of my soul each time I enter a Wal-Mart. As I think about it, the “greedy bastard” argument is not just reserved for Disney as I hold similar feelings toward the entire movement of convergence and the concentration of ownership among a handful of media corporations –in addition to Disney, I look at Comcast, Fox, Viacom and Time Warner in a similar light.

Where are we headed when less than a handful of companies own 90% of the media in this country? I am not a social dystopian theorist in general, yet if such conglomeration does not at least raise an eyebrow and be cause for some concern, we are just not paying attention.

Yet this massive profit is not really the “greedy bastard” part that bothers me so much. Without going into too much detail because it would be a blog all unto itself, Disney was the primary fighting force in changing the copyright/public domain laws in the 1990’s so they could continue to own the copyright on Disney stories -stories apparently stolen from the public domain many years earlier- for the additional life of the author plus 120 years (it was formerly 70 years….for a great open letter to Disney regarding this matter check out this link. This Copyright Term Extension Act is now comically referred to as “Mickey Mouse Protection Act of 1998″) as they hijacked global myths from humanity and called them their own for the sake of profit. Disney guards both its stolen and non-stolen possessions like a mother hen.

Oh…and just try to paint some Mickey Mouse ears on your kindergarten/preschool room walls…Disney lawyers will be on your Early Childhood Education ass faster than you can sing, “Can you feel the love tonight?”

Heigh ho, heigh ho…to the next criticism I go.

2. Disney is the bully of culture. In addition to the fact they bullied congress for a change in copyright laws and aggressively guard their designs, what makes this worse is that Disney has so crept into the entire ethos of American culture that if you deny your children a healthy consumption of Disney products you are a bad parent who deprives your child a “normal” childhood.  It is like getting the culture hooked on crack and then only allowing culture to buy your brand of crack…or risk going to prison (ok, bad analogy as you will go to prison for using any crack…but I think you get the point). Please do not get me wrong, when my children were growing up I force fed them Disney consumerism (read: crack) like there was no tomorrow…and it felt good doing it at the time.

Well now that I am older and, very much arguably, wiser, I sicken myself for falling for the bully tactic hoisted upon our culture by Disney. I believe I came to this realization when, a couple of years back, I was having a discussion with a colleague, Jeff –who currently is raising 3 small children- about parenting when he said they were about to do something Disney related. It was at that time that I thought out loud to him, “Why do we do this? Why do we indoctrinate our children with all things Disney? I did the same thing,” I told him.

Jeff, a philosophy professor, laughed and shared the same inquiry. “I don’t know,” he said, “I just don’t know.”

I would tend to guess most of us would have a similar answer: We really do not know, we just do it, as if it is all we know. We suckle at the teet of Disney culture as if it is our only source of entertainment nourishment….at least for our children. We have succumbed to the bully who has cornered the market on childhood, some would argue unfairly, and we have, like sheep, blindly followed the bully into the back alley where he entertains us into consumerist submission and leaves with our wallet –all the while with a Mickey Mouse-like smile on our face.

Nice work Walt. Thanks. I truly am feeling the love tonight.

3. The massive profits produced by Disney are immorally generated by producing an illusory world of lies. A lot of greedy, bully companies make good profits. Oil companies, the meat industry, automotive manufacturers, just to name a few, generally make money hand over fist. Yet these industries do not mask and conceal their mercantile contributions in an underhanded, skewed and disguised sense.  We know we fight wars over oil -while this and the automotive industry are cause for environmental concerns.  The meat industry does not claim to enhance the lives of animals.

Disney sells happiness. The irony of a greedy, money hungry, bully conglomerate selling as its primary product happiness, fairy tales, dreams coming true and living happily ever after is, well, sickening. The author Aldous Huxley in his book, “A Brave New World,” with ideas later reignited by Neal Postman in his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” suggest that the end of civilization as we know it will not come from “big brother” forcing his coercive evil hand upon us, rather we will become a culture so engaged in our own masturbatory sense of entertainment, amusement and dependency on delight that we will be lulled into a sense of wonder…and be lead to our destruction with a big smile on our face.

Is that somewhat overstated? Probably. Yet the idea of a bully selling as its primary product happiness just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It would be akin to the sugar industry selling the idea of dental health or the donut industry selling the idea of weight loss. Just ironic. They sell the idea of “the happiest place on earth,” though when it costs $100 a pop just to walk through the gates only to purchase $10 sodas, we quickly realize it is, in reality, the “greediest place on earth.”

I am all for entertainment, storytelling and myth. I just need to know where myth ends and reality begins. So, Disney, I guess you could say I have interest in being part of your world.

4. Disney serves as anesthesia for the masses. Related to number 3, above, Disney creates the idea of selling the happiest place on earth. If you live in Southern California it is not at all unusual to meet people, people who live several hours from Disneyland, who have year round passes to Disneyland. For many, it is not just a place to visit but a lifestyle.sign-front

Recently someone introduced me to an art exhibit called, “Dismaland,” that ran in Europe over the summer. This exhibit is described in part in this way:“Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism.

I freaking love this…an escape from mindless escapism.

This exhibit truly strikes at the heart of my feeling toward Disneyland. It is a stark reminder of the realities of the world around us…it can be beautiful place, yet often it is a dark, tortured and unpleasant place. Fairy tale endings and “happily ever afters” are rarely part of the real human experience. Disneyland provides such a stark contrast from reality as to, arguably, serve to render us less effective in the real place. It causes us to ask where was my knight in shining armor or my prince charming when I needed him? It places an unreal expectation on that which is real as to cause an existential crisis when reality turns out to be, well, reality.

So….it is becoming a whole new world as…

5. Disney is expanding and its influence is growing evermore far reaching…and this is dangerous.  Yes, I realize Disney knows it is in the business of entertainment and does NOT really believe in flying elephants, a puppet with a growing nose, talking cars, genies, beasts turned princes or whatever else the Disney illusion sells…but, dammit, they are going to give it their best shot to get us to believe it.  The growing pervasiveness of its presence, now leaving the theme park and entering into the global, corporate ethos…is potentially very scary. It is the greedy bully selling us a package of lies and manipulation…on a now global scale. Consider that Disney now owns the means to influence culture through ABC, ESPN, Pixar, Miramax and Marvel Studios…just to name a few.

Now that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm for a paltry 4 billion, I can guarantee we are going to get Star Wars shoved up our collective asses higher than a WeHo high colonic.

Was Huxley’s warning and Postman’s position far off?

They look spot on to me.

So kids. Argue with me. I probably spat upon your sacred cow. Or, in this case, sacred flying elephant.

I love it when a lecture inspires a blog.

Hakuna Matata Mouseketeers.

Family Values

Individuality. Responsibility. Tolerance. Sense of humor. Creativity. And what do each of these wonderful virtues have in common?

All are the central values that we desired to impart to our children as they were growing up.

Values are strange things in that everyone, yes, everyone, has them yet most have not stopped to identify and critically evaluate them.Family_ValuesF

When our eldest children were still very small, Rene’ and I adopted the idea of imparting “family values” to our children.  Perhaps some are unaware that the term “family values” was a conservative, right-leaning buzzphrase about 25 years ago (perhaps still is?? Not sure) that translated into adopting a rather conservative spin on one’s politics. I felt this to be unfortunate as, politically, I am fairly middle-of-the-road and really did not want to identify with any political branding. Yet I am a strong believer in both family and values while believing it is very important to impart discretion and wisdom to our young (or at least attempt to…I still surprise myself that at my age I am quite capable of lacking both…but I digress).

The political right used the idea of family values to provide the primary pathos of their party…as if they have corner on family values that the left sorely lacks. I would argue both parties have values -just fundamentally different ones to be sure. There is a lot of, “if your values are not my values they are not values” thinking going on. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the issue of gay rights -as both sides accuse the other of lacking values. I believe both sides have values…just radically different ones, generated from different places with different moral mindsets. Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, is, in my opinion, a 4 time married, law breaking, hypocrite who should quit her position or go to prison. That said, I do believe she has values…just radically different ones from my own.

We adopted the term “family values” NOT in the sense of imparting conservative, right wing SHtuff to our children, rather the adopting values we felt to be important. Have our values changed in the past 25 years? In a word, yes. For example, personally, I would not have selected the value of tolerance -as it suggests to “put up with” something/someone. I would replace tolerance with a phrase that goes much further… love, for example. I am still very cool with responsibility, sense of humor and creativity….perhaps even moreso today than 25 years ago.

Taking responsibility for your own actions -not blaming others when things do not go your way, owning up to mistakes, etc… is a central tenet of the Urb clan. Rene’ has grown to believe creativity is the root of all humanity and I tend to agree. And a sense of humor? Life would not be worth living without it…to take ANYTHING, yourself included, too seriously is a serious Urb offense. Even at our most serious, we have learned to seriously laugh at ourselves and each other. I seriously love that.

I am very pleased to report that I believe we have accomplished imparting these values to our now adult children. Each child embodies these 5 values, with each child seeming to strongly emphasize one value in particular. For those of you know my family, I believe you can guess which one matches which value.

HOWEVER, if we were to change one of our original values, perhaps a value we wish we could take back, it most certainly would be that of individuality.  I do believe a healthy dose of being a very strong individual is a good thing, yet, like any good thing in abundance, it can go south….quickly.

To be a strong individual has a tremendous upside, particularly as you are growing up. To be strong in the face of peer pressure, to not allow others to determine your happiness, to stand up to wrongs and indifference, to fully develop your own unique voice and use it without apology, to question authority and, well, question everything, are all wonderful attributes -so what’s the problem?

As I think about it, strong individuality is a lot like drinking- the best part is concurrently the worst part. The worst part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions -the best part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions.

As I age, I realize the immense value and importance of community. Terrifically strong individuals typically make for poor members of a community. There is a time to give and a time to take; a time to sacrifice and a time to be a bit selfish; there is a place for “me” time yet I now realize there is a much more prominent place for “we” time.

Rene’ is much more collectivist in her thinking than I am. While I tend to be “looking out for number one,” Rene’ is too busy helping numbers two and three to be concerned with her number one status -and that is a beautiful thing. If I could go back and alter the Urb family values, I would try to find a value that balances the concern for self with the concern for others. That, or just eliminate it altogether. As I think about it, if one is tolerant, responsible, creative, and has a sense of humor, the idea of individuality is somewhat redundant at that point.

So what do we got? We have a family, even counting Rene’ in a strange sort of way, of fierce individuals. They are who they are with no apologies. Whatever they want in life they attack it…with a vengeance.

This December, when my daughter Rose and her man, Nathan, come for their long awaited visit for a few weeks, the house will once again be stuffed full of strong creative and individualistic energy. Oh sure we will fight over where to eat, what time to go to a certain place, what meal to cook, what temperature to set the thermostat, the volume and movie choice on Netflix, to put the accordion and trumpet away, and even who gets the front seat.

I suppose that is the price to pay for four children who could all potentially change over the world.

So, like them or not, for better or for worse, we have identified our values and have attempted to consistently enforce them for about 25 years now.

And remember, there is no “i” in values. It only took a mere quarter century to figure that one out.

Voting…Or Not

I preface this blog entry with the qualification that I am not a political expert in any way, shape or form (are you listening Holliann?). However, I do know how to structure sentences and do have an opinion…not to mention I pay WordPress $100 a year for this domain name…so read on!

The 2016 presidential election is still over 14 months away and the party nominations are beginning to heat up in a big way. It is around this time of year that I hear people discussing the candidates and for whom they will vote.  Oddly, it seems most of us have a feel for who we like and do not like–yet really have no real, legitimate “grounded” reasons why. I hear things like, “Trump seems like such an asshole,” or, “Hillary is a bitch,” or, “Bernie Sanders reminds me of my loving grandfather.”

Hardly astute political observations when deciding on who shall be the next “Leader of the Free World.” Or are they as good as any other observations? Stay with me here people. I have come full circle on my former harsh critiques of a superficial voting base. I suggest 3 basic unpopular options -well, kinda 4– for those of you considering voting in the next election…and please read on before you judge me too harshly and cast me as un-American. I do have my reasons.

1. Don’t vote.vote151

2. Vote for whoever makes you feel better about life.

3. Close your eyes, point down, and select the candidate at your fingertip.

We’ll get to number 4 later….

Yes, I’m dead serious.

First off, two of my favorite thinkers, economists Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt from Freakonomics, would tell you straight out that voting is the biggest waste of time a person can spend. In a New York Times article they wrote in 2005, they claim following:

 Why would an economist be embarrassed to be seen at the voting booth? Because voting exacts a cost — in time, effort, lost productivity — with no discernible payoff except perhaps some vague sense of having done your “civic duty.” As the economist Patricia Funk wrote in a recent paper, “A rational individual should abstain from voting.”

The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim. This was documented by the economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, who analyzed more than 56,000 Congressional and state-legislative elections since 1898. For all the attention paid in the media to close elections, it turns out that they are exceedingly rare. The median margin of victory in the Congressional elections was 22 percent; in the state-legislature elections, it was 25 percent. Even in the closest elections, it is almost never the case that a single vote is pivotal. Of the more than 40,000 elections for state legislator that Mulligan and Hunter analyzed, comprising nearly 1 billion votes, only 7 elections were decided by a single vote, with 2 others tied. Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years — a 1910 race in Buffalo — was decided by a single vote. 

So, according to them, why do people vote? They provide 3 reasons:

1. Perhaps we are just not very bright and therefore wrongly believe that our votes will affect the outcome.

2. Perhaps we vote in the same spirit in which we buy lottery tickets. After all, your chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. From a financial perspective, playing the lottery is a bad investment. But it’s fun and relatively cheap: for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you’d spend the winnings – just like you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.

3. Perhaps we have been socialized into the voting-as-civic-duty idea, believing that it’s a good thing for society if people vote, even if it’s not particularly good for the individual. And thus we feel guilty for not voting.

I once was of the strong opinion that not voting was better than casting an ignorant vote. However, for the following two reasons -my 2nd and 3rd options-I have changed my mind. Funny what a little research can do.

My second possible option concerning voting -vote for who makes you feel better about your life- is grounded in the following principle concerning the logistics of the presidency: The actual power of the president.

I believe that one of the most important considerations when considering presidential candidates is to understand the nature of the presidency and the actual power he or she possesses.

Bernadette Meyler, a Cornell Law Professor, breaks down presidential power into five general areas -that I can simplify here:  

1. Leader of the Armed Forces

2. Judicial and Cabinet Appointments

3. The Execution or Non-Execution of Laws

4. Power of Persuasion over Congress

5. Foreign Policy

Perhaps a sixth power, tangentially related to power #4 above, and arguably the greatest power a president may have, is that of the bully pulpit. Whether or not a president is for or against abortion, gay rights, immigration reform or tax increases/cuts –just to name a few issues– means very little insofar as the president alone is concerned. Our system of checks and balances does not allow for a dictatorship and these types of issues are the result of the judicial and legislative branches of government, in tandem with the executive branch. That said, the president has the power to wield a rather hefty sword of persuasion towards these, and other, entities –yet he or she can never vote or judge in their stead.

So how much power does the president really have?

I would argue that the president has far less power than most of us think. Conversely, I would also contend that supreme court justices have substantially far more power than we give them credit. The president may appoint justices, yet the  senate needs to approve them (too bad for Robert Bork….look it up kiddos). In terms of my gay friends who can now marry, Justice Anthony Kennedy has far more power than Barack Obama. In fact, President Obama does not have ANY power in this matter whatsoever –other than to use his powers of persuasion to attempt to shape public and political opinion.

So, Jimmy, what is the point?

The way our system functions, the president is far more a “purveyor of political perception” over a “perpetrator of power.” Yes, the president can declare war, appoint cabinet members, and free convicted felons, yet, none of these things are ever done in a vacuum nor without weighing the political consequences of making such decisions. If the president makes grave errors in any of these types of decisions, the president will politically pay dearly for it. This is why presidents wait until their term is nearly over to start pardoning their white collar buddies, among others, in prison –to avoid political fall out. Just hours before his final term in office, on January 20, 2001, Bill Clinton released 140 people from prison (this act was known in some circles as “pardongate”). To grant these pardons any sooner would have been political suicide and he would have had hell to pay.

So, yes, the president certainly wields a strong power of persuasion yet will not commit any acts that will result in his or her own political suicide. Hence, we potentially can have a wild presidential pit bull in office, yet due to political ambitions in the great majority of cases, the president is laced with a strong political sedative to behave in accordance with popular opinion –left wing or right wing be damned.

My opinion these days? Vote for whomever makes you feel better about your life and this country. It’s as good a criteria as any.

Finally, if either not voting or voting based on feeling does not work for you, I would recommend my third option: Randomly select anyone. There are strong reasons to support an ignorant voter base, many discussed here in Harvard Professor Jennifer L. Hochschild’s article, “If Democracies Need Informed Voters, How Can They Thrive While Expanding Enfranchisement?” In this article she states the following:

If everyone was passionately and knowledgeably engaged with the issues, the losing party would not grant legitimacy to electoral results or to controversial legislative or judicial decisions, and that would threaten the existence of the state itself. As Bernard Berelson and his colleagues put it, “the apathetic segment of America probably has helped to hold the system together and cushioned the shock of disagreement, adjustment, and change.”  After all, democratic participation is hard and often unrewarding work, especially if one invests time and energy in learning about electoral or policy choices; in this view, a democracy needs the apathetic ignorant to balance the passionate experts. 

My paraphrase of the above sentiment? We need a lot of people not to give a shit or else there might be civil war and/or anarchy. Sure Thomas Jefferson would disagree, though he did not live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Reddit –not to mention Disneyland…all worthy competitors for our precious time, attention and resources. These things keep us in a politically flaccid and mind-numbing state. We need political apathy in this country and our survival depends on a majority of ignorant voters.

I find it quite laughable when I hear either the extreme right or extreme left claim they will leave the country if a certain candidate wins. No you won’t.  Shut up. (Although if Trump wins I certainly won’t go to Mexico because I’d probably never get back over that wall). The president just doesn’t change things all that much. Flee to France if you must, Johnny Depp, though if the president mattered that much, our country would never have survived the Jimmy Carter era.

Of course there is a 4th alternative…be passionate and spend copious amounts of time studying the candidates and issues. But that would require, as stated above, often hard and unrewarding work: Having to check facts and investigate political voting records can be a real bitch. Particularly when you consider your one vote has about as much chance for counting as winning the super lotto…10 times in a row.

Yep. That’s what I thought.

I told you all I am no political expert…just a blogger with an opinion. And for a $100 bucks a year, you better believe you are going to get it.

Marriage

If you had an opportunity to start a business yet you knew going into it that you had a 90% chance of failure, would you start it?

Unless you are either overly optimistic or just plain dishonest, the answer would be a resounding no. Sure you might be the lucky 10%…yet not likely.

Yet, for those who are looking to get into this business of marriage, this is the approximate chance your marriage will be successful.

Allow me to explain.

While doing some research on marriage and divorce, I noticed some very interesting facts (a midst some very complicated and difficult-to-decipher statistics). For example:

  • Indeed it may seem at first glance somewhat counter intuitive, the states with the highest divorce rates, as of 2012, are the conservative, “bible belt” states.  For example, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest divorce rates of all states in the US, hovering around 4.8 divorces, per year, per 1000 people –translating to over around a 50% divorce rate over the life of the marriage (I did not count Nevada with a whopping divorce rate of 5.5 divorces for every 1000 people because, well, it’s Nevada and people get drunk, marry, divorce on any given weekend).
  • The lowest divorce rates in the US are by far the more liberal, educated states. For example, the lowest divorce rates in the country are New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois -which has only 2.4 divorces, per year, per 1000 people.
  • The lone curve ball concerning the above data is that the lowest divorce state in the US is Iowa with only 2.2 divorces, per year, per 1000 residents. Go figure.

Now, trust me on this one, there exists mountains of information concerning marriage and divorce statistics, odds, etc… So please allow me to summarize as simply as possible the greatest influence in whether or not a couple will divorce:

By FAR, first and foremost: Education. Sociologist Steve Martin calls this the great divorce divide. Couples with a Bachelors Degree or higher are 30% more like to stay together since 1970. On the other hand, couples with little to no higher education are 6% more likely to divorce since 1970.  Education matters and we could theorize for days as to why…including the fact that those that can stick out an education through thick and thin are far more likely to stick out a relationship when times get tough. In addition, those with an education typically get married at an older age and, statistically, make more money –all things that help a marriage survive. According to National Affairs:

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Other very important factors concern where you live, age when married, income bracket and whether or not your parents are divorced.

So here is my mathematical marriage disaster equation: Odds of getting divorced: 40-50%. Odds of remaining 50-60% remaining true to their marriage vows (read: cheating): Half? 30%? Odds of remaining 30% being truly happy and content in their marriage? 10%? 15%?

This leaves, pending on how nitpicky you would like to get with these numbers, approximately a 10-15% chance of having a fruitful, happy relationship till death do you part.

I believe, by virtue of anyone’s fuzzy divorce math, marriage in 2015 is a total failing institution.  Of course the US is not as bad off as some other countries, Belgium, for example, has a 71% divorce rate –compared to anywhere from 40% to 55% chance of divorce, over one’s life, in the United States.

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And here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying we should do away with marriage, no need to throw the bridal baby out with the nuptial bathwater –I am saying we have a very large social problem and we need to somehow fix it. I do abide by the notion that divorce is a terrible thing for families and society at large. It is a major problem. Thus, when society has a major problem it is in all our best interests to try and solve it.

Yet, I ask, is divorce just an inevitable path for most? Is there anything we can do about it? Not surprisingly, as one who has been pondering this social plague for many years, we do have some possible solutions.

1. Make divorce very difficult to obtain. It used to be very difficult to divorce in the United States –until September 4, 1969 when California Governor Ronald Reagan, who divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman in 1948 when she accused him of mental cruelty and, essentially, wanted to clear his name, signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in the US (a decision he reportedly later regretted). Prior to no-fault divorce, spouses seeking divorce had to prove that their partner was at fault for the marriage breakdown -essentially stripping the couple of power and giving it to the individual. Accepted legal grounds for divorce included (but were not limited to) physical or mental abuse, abandonment, insanity, or lack of sexual intimacy.  There are strong arguments for and against n0-fault divorce –though one thing is for damn certain: Divorce rates skyrocketed after this legislation was enacted –doubled, in fact. The biggest jump in divorce rates has nothing to do with a lack of morality or religious affiliation, for example, it all has to do with how difficult or easy the process is to get a divorce. I say that society is far better off making it very difficult, though not impossible, to break a lifelong vow.

2. Make marriage very difficult to obtain. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to put a pool in your backyard, you must pull permits, adhere to strict codes, pay thousands of dollars, all the while being continually inspected by city officials. Want to get married? Walk down to the courtroom, fill out a piece of paper, fork over a few bucks and DONE. Or, better yet, just drive to Vegas. What does it say about our society that it is easier to commit to one person for the rest of your life in an ironclad contract then it is to put a pool in your backyard? If we make divorce difficult to obtain, we should also make marriage equally as difficult.  There are two things our society has completely ass-backwards that we treat with high esteem –two things that any two dumbasses can do: Get married and have children. Why do we celebrate an act that, eventually, makes society a far worse place with its terrible ending? I say we treat those wanting to get married with suspicion and doubt. If you want to really achieve something in this life, get a college degree or start a successful business…making ill-advised commitments and spitting out kids is easy –discipline and self-motivation is not.

3. Marriage contracts. The thing I love most about the idea of marriage contracts is that it forces two people to sit down, negotiate issues and make a plan: The things every couple should do, though, typically, do not. Marriage contracts can come in a variety of forms, including options, buyouts, consequences, finances, time limits, you name it. A customary contract would be a 10 year-deal –at which time two people can sit down and discuss renewing, or not. Do I think marriage contracts are ideal? Hell no. I do believe contracts may dull the sting of two people separating because is there no expectation of “till death do you part.” At the very least marriage contracts do not place unreasonable expectations on a couple…though choosing to not extend a contract may be emotionally difficult for some, at least all things were discussed and laid out prior so there are no surprises. It is not coincidence that professional athletes in their final year of their contract have, by far, their greatest and most successful years? Why would it be any different for relationships that are about to expire? If my contract is about to expire and I want I want to renew? You better believe it is extra time at the gym and a myriad of wonderful floral arrangements on the daily.

4. Do not marry. There is a part of me that wants to make the claim this is the easiest and best route because, as they say, the number one cause of divorce is marriage–so let’s just stop doing it. However, I do believe there is hard wiring in the majority of human nature that drives each of us to pair up with someone and do life together. Therefore we can stop calling it marriage though I believe the partnering phenomena will continue regardless. With the advent of common-law marriage, also known as sui juris marriage, informal marriage, or marriage by habit and repute, where a couple is legally considered married without ever officially getting married, doing away with marriage would have little benefit. Thus, we can stop getting married yet good old Uncle Sam will just automatically do it for us. I, for one, believe the government should have nothing to do with the act of marriage. Of course part of the overall declining divorce rate is due to the fact fewer people are marrying and, if children are not involved, perhaps this is a better route for many to take, common-law marriage be damned.

5. Consider different types of marriage options. Why do you think the more conservative, Christian states have the highest divorce rates? Because, for them, there is only one type of marriage and, for them, divorce is a superior option than thinking outside the marriage box. I could not disagree more. Divorce sucks. There exists plenty of different marriage options outside of traditional ones; so many, in fact, any couple can modify and customize their marriage to make it work best for them. I have met people in freedom-based, polyamorous, child-centric, convenience, open, practical, etc…arrangements that work best for their particular situation. Of course I completely disagree with having only one traditional marriage option….but perhaps that is another blog for a different day.

As a society we can rule with reason or we can rule with emotion. Emotionally, to reconsider the fundamental, traditional act of one of culture’s cornerstone events, marriage, is unthinkable and unbearable, despite what our reason might suggest to the contrary. Of course most of us would rather keep doing what is familiar.

Thoughts? Please discuss.