Exit, Exit, Enter

What my undergrad “degree” taught me
May 5, 2015, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Self Discovery

Most people view educational degrees as this journey towards obtaining some sort of knowledge – to be awarded a Bachelor’s or Master’s is to know and be learned. So, I thought to kick off the reemergence of this blog by reflecting on what my undergraduate degree taught me.** Not what I learned on paper or through tests or theses, but the importance of my degree in developing me into at least a semi-functional, emotionally adequately-stable adult.

My undergraduate degree was in the natural sciences. I say this as broadly as possible because I learned shortly there into a research-based degree that the labelling of a degree, and labelling as a whole really, isn’t really all that useful. Labels are convenient for us to compartmentalize what are in reality complicated and very convoluted issues.  – whether it’s climate change or civil rights, labels can only get you so far. So, my major was in the “natural sciences”.

I learned shortly into my degree how important it was to enroll first as a music education major and then fail – fail really hard. And to fail over and over again at anything and everything. (On a side note, supportive and forgiving parents are of a great benefit to this aimless meandering!)

I’ve always been quite mediocre at a multitude of things – sports, school subjects, whatever. I was an A and B student my whole life (graduated my undergrad magna cum laude), played and sucked at a bunch of sports (but still somehow adopted the persona “athletic” ) and am widely sub-par when it comes to managing finances and any technical skills in my field.

However, I learned that regardless of where you are from, whatever your interests are, whatever your political party or religious view: people are people. And they naturally enjoy diversity. Diversity of opinion. Diversity of ethnicity and experience. We are fickle and love and embrace those that can indulge us in our curiosity. Learning this was really important for me to understand others and why anyone would want to hang out with me.

We all naturally want to know and learn and love and understand things, regardless of our own shortcomings.

Some firsts

  • I voted to decide who would be the President of the United States for the first time (and also voted to decide who would be the county commissioner). I learned that things both big and small are important and can impact things equally so.
  • I dated seriously for the first time and broke up seriously for the first time. I learned what it meant to be utterly convinced of your own opinion, very well knowing that they were utterly convinced of theirs.
  • I failed a course for the first time, and wondered what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life for the first time.
  • I owned my first car,
    • lost my first best friend,
    • bought my first camera,
    • broke my first camera,
    • got my first credit card,
    • got my first pet(s),
    • got into my first car accident.

There were a lot of inconsequential and consequential firsts, but they all happened.

I made best friends. I lost friends. People I knew were born, people I knew died. I learned about the importance of the dollar and the importance of living. I cried multiple times, I laughed probably too few.

I figured out what I wanted to be and what questions I wanted to answer. I figured out that I’ll never know all of them.

My time as an undergrad contorted me and challenged me. It showed others who I am and who I could be, and it made me ultra aware of tiresome cliches.  And so, my undergrad taught me something that I’ve not quite yet realized, and something yet that I’m not sure I’ll ever know.

What can I learn next?

**Disclaimer: seeing as how I have not yet achieved what I’d consider any appropriate level of success, this may all be moot and I’d have wasted all of your time. At least I learned how to mutter on for a long time and appear learned? These degrees will look great on my wall.

Nationalism and Sports
November 7, 2012, 11:23 am
Filed under: Election

Watching the primary American election is quite similar to watching an American football game. Everyone at the game is struck with fervor and insistent that their side is clearly superior to the other. Both team’s fans are also curiously confident that something – whether the colors blue or red or the apparent name of their team – definitively distinguishes the two teams from one another. As though both teams represent two concurrent paths to the truth, with one being surely wrong and one being surely right. This last point may indeed hold true for sports, but I don’t think that it holds true for politics.

Watching the election yesterday as the votes were tallied was fun. I was at my University where a watch party organized by ABC gathered and unanimously, as I would imagine happened at most higher institutes of learning (not compromised by religious ideologues), cheered as the votes came in for Obama. I was with a friend who is studying here from Japan, and we both found the process interesting – 面白かった as I would say if I was talking to a Japanese friend today. My friend was enthralled by the apparent enthusiasm with the election – with how the American presidential election is so engaged and participated in. I was enthralled with how enthralled we all were.

Is this the kind of blind, us-vs-them nationalism that possessed our country during the world wars? I am curious as to what that was like. What kind of delusional, self-righteous xenophobia that obsessed the American psyche to the point where such world destruction in the name of American progress and security was deemed a necessary sacrifice. If that nationalism is any similar to the nationalism we experience on election day then I am glad that we have left that behind. That kind nationalism does not engross me at all.

I just find it so funny that there are people in both parties who inexorably insist, upon accruing the necessary votes on the first Tuesday of November of every 4 years, that this win is a win for their country. They wave their flags, in their red, white, and blue clothing, and ensure one another that this option was more patriotic. It as though people who are Republicans, exclusively because they embrace the label “Republican”, do not wish to see that America succeeds in the long run.

I have not meant to say that I do not enjoy the enthusiasm of the modern-day American on (Primary) election day. We elected our first openly gay Senator in Wisconsin, legalized Marijuana in a bunch of states, and legalized gay marriage in a bunch of other states. We are a generation increasingly showing ourselves to be more liberal (see: sophisticated, nuanced, intellectual, compassionate…) and understanding. We obviously care, and it is great to see so many people exercise their right to understand what is going on in our government – to understand who the politicians, who influence everything that affects us Americans and many other countries, are.

Maybe voting for incumbent Obama was the best and most patriotic thing for our country this year. But, the blind enthusiasm has to exist beyond more than every 4 years to get the system changed; it has to exist beyond ubiquitous nationalism, punch lines and the colors red and blue. How about some modest, continuous, and intellectual engagement on the issues? How about voting every 2 years, regularly keeping up with what our crooked politicians are doing, and getting the money that screws up everything in the first place out of politics? How about realizing that just because someone identifies as another group does not necessarily mean that they are of the devil?

Yes, Americans can be passionate and intellectual and engaged, and when we channel that spirit we are the envy of the world. But, when we blindly use that passion only every 4 years, for a couple of months at a time, we are but an emulation of what the United States was. We look like the fat over-zealous, shirtless football fan in the stands on TV before a commercial of Doritos aires. Let’s work out a little, chastise some of our commercialism.. oh wait, how about we just not look the fat football fan on election day.

On the Meaning of Life: ある and いる
August 3, 2012, 10:26 am
Filed under: Self Discovery

Aru (ある) and Iru (いる) are two verbs that most foreign Japanese-learners learn relatively early on. They are seemingly simple verbs: both are either (depending on which Iru you are using) conjugated like one of the 2 main groups of verbs. So, no problem there. They are also easily learned because they are frequently used early on to help the beginner formulate simple Japanese sentences. Grammatically these words are predictable and mean, quite roughly:

  • Aru (godan/consant-stem verb): (of an inanimate object) to exist; to have; to happen
  • Iru (ichidan/vowel-stem verb): (of an animate object) to exist; to stay; used to indicate continuing state of action when affixed to the -te form of a verb

So again, like most Japanese verbs, Aru and Iru have multiple meanings and can be used differently depending on context. Also, Iru has another meaning (roughly: to need) and can be conjugated like Aru. Two suggestively normal verbs and meanings.

However, I believe that the first meaning of each verb shares with us a unique, quintessentially Nihongo perspective on the meaning of life.

In the United States (in English), the definition of life is typically (and quite rambunctiously) argued over in the political sphere by way of abortion policy, but the dialogue is regularly complemented by philosophical and scientific musing about the tenets that compose the meaning of life. This analytic approach to defining life is useful. However, such reductionist applications to something as heralded as the definition of life are bound to turn some people off. Indeed, this approach to defining life regularly scoffs at those who believe that life is defined by the Spirit, which imbues the life-form in an obligatorily undefined point after conception. Spirit will, safe to say, never be considered in the Western scientist’s definition.

As a Western scientist myself, and regardless of whether or not I sound unnecessarily tolerant(ha), I feel that the definition of life will forever be elusive. Biologists have come up with 7 characteristics which have to be exhibited for life to be declared. These 7 characteristics will no doubt change (and that is something that I am proud!), but is the value of life of any real importance when defined in such biological terms? The life-form must exhibit homeostasis and response to stimuli. So what? Will this one day make me intolerant of the indiscriminate obliteration Human papillomavirus when someone freezes a wart? I dare say nay.

I believe that the Japanese and other Asian cultures have something to offer to the discourse – even if their affront to confrontation will in the near future prevent any attempt of inclusion. I feel that Aru and Iru are words that come from a society (one from whom we can learn) whose approach to a definition of life is more inclusive, more productive and less belligerent.

I do not mean to say in this post that biological definition of life is unimportant or that the inclusion of a Spirit be obligatory, but what I do wish to insist is that we be more aware of the effects that our actions have on other things. What is the importance of defining life biologically? It surely won’t provide any insight medicinally. Whether they be living or inanimate, the  treatment of our planet – and all of ITS animals, plants, resources, people, and things.. because those are all ITS things – is more important than the definition of what is deemed worthy of living. We should more often treat with kindness and understanding and not be so quick to hate and indiscriminately discriminate.

The Japanese understand the importance of conservation. They have words specifically for the regret of wasting. They are constantly, regardless of whether or not that recognition is due to unfortunate means, irrevocably and appreciably aware of their environment. We Americans and Westerners are constantly looking for efficiency rather than saving something because it is prudent or morally or sentimentally valuable.

To me, the existence of ある and いる are indicators of an appreciation for nature and life which is engrained into the Japanese language and culture. We can learn a lot about life — and our definitions of it — from this.

Men Don’t Cry
August 2, 2012, 10:23 am
Filed under: Self Discovery

“Men don’t cry.” An adage probably passed down from father and mother to son time immemorial. It probably originated in a time where copious testosterone and tethered aggression were considered to be properties only evident in the most accomplished. Now-a-days those properties are restricted to small sections of society, namely professional athletes.

What does this adage mean? Perhaps it precludes that men are hardly men if they cry. Does this then imply that men are incapable of sadness? Maybe real men should, if not happy, only be restricted to anger or aggression. Could the underlying tendencies behind this saying create problems for the common-day man and woman? The implications of these undertones could shed light on the propensities of “real men” to act insensitive and boys to strive towards that unideal ideal.

What does it even mean to say that one half of our species should not exercise such an elementary bodily function? We scientists call it lacrimation. Society insists on a different label: wimp, girly-boy, coward.

A perfect example of our wonderful extra-somatic accomplishments.

The Unfortunate Cost of Religion: Harold Camping
May 20, 2011, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Religion/God

$100,000,000. That is an amount of money that an infinitesimal amount of people in the world will get to see. Take, for example, that the two biggest countries per population are India and China, whose gross domestic products per capita are $3,339 and $7,518 respectively. This is in stark contrast to the United States’ GDP per capita of $47,123, and this figure doesn’t even take into account the gross wealth inequalities that persist in our country: 10% of the population owns 71% of the wealth, and as a slight even to this elite class merely 1% of the country’s population owns 38% percent of the wealth. As I said, not many will see 100 million dollars in their lifetime.

But, 89 year old Christian proselytizer Harold Camping has nearly seen that amount. His organization, Family Radio, has been rumored to be worth $100 million. Regardless of the actual amount, this smug civil-engineer turned Christian-proselytizer is making far more than Jesus Christ would have considered extravagant. Camping, however, is not the first to predict the rapture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapture#Date_setting), or to generate copious amounts of cash preaching (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missionary), or to otherwise take advantage of the insecurities created by not knowing everything. And, I don’t see this exploitation of the human insecurity stopping anytime soon.

Now then, how is this interpretation of the Bible received by other Christians and believers? It is merely deemed an unfortunate, rather innocuous misinterpretation. He is otherwise exempt from criticism of his postulation of an unsubstantiated armageddon, charlatanry in accruing obnoxious amounts of money, and smug track record of previous prophecies. In every other facet of human life, one would be eaten alive for such intellectual and social cowardice. However, he gets away with this almost exclusively based on his vague, apparently outlandish adherence to a (conveniently) modern body of religious principles.

Christianity, when interpreted as the Bible prescribes, is a clear plight of human progress. This absolute loon cannot be chastised as more than someone simply misinterpreting the Bible, because everyone knows that he is well working within the boundaries of faith and what the Bible instructs.

What I think makes him so controversial – if you can call it that at all – is that he, and other self-identified prophets of the Christian faith, just happen to be exposing a conscionable, very plausible scientific and moral untenability that a true Christian faith exhibits in the face of modern morality. And yet, all the while Christianity (or your particular flavor of religion) insists on being the sole process in which we stumble upon our morality. Surely loons like Camping are not processes by which we figure out that morality?

Christianity is a complex of relics that people hold onto – and misconstrue and ignore in spite of the sanity of every day life – from a time when it was ok to treat woman like objects, and superstition like a sound foundation of reason. It is kind of sad to see otherwise wonderfully smart people cower in the corner and treat people like Camping as the paranoid older brother who, unfortunately for most believers, otherwise shares the exact same principles that they do. The only difference is that he does it with the confidence and unabashed disregard for sensibility that the Bible has always required of its believers. It would be a safe bet to assume that he and his followers were as confident in this rapture date as anything they have ever been confident of. In a time where we have traced our origins and sequenced our DNA, that is a sad and frightening thing.

As We Grow Older, Our Heart Shrinks
September 5, 2010, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Self Discovery

In proportion..

When you find yourself walking through a large city at cognizant age you start to realize how small you are. Even in the countryside, look up at a clear sky. The dizzying number of stars dwarf you. Your comprehension is swallowed by the scale-less abyss. You are small indeed.

You are particularly small when you are young, but your ego and self-importance is as a big as your head – relatively speaking (have you ever seen a baby’s head?). But, nothing is as big as your heart. As a fetus our heart-to-body ratio is 9 times that of the same ratio at birth. It of course further shrinks as you get older. It then can be (and is being) argued metaphysically that one does not love more than that at birth – when we are crying and in shock as we emerge into this small, blue-and-green world.

I find myself thinking back onto my sport-playing younger self, and how I used to think that I was the best at every sport I played, when in actuality I really sucked. Up until a few years ago I thought I was a lot better at Tennis than I actually am. I digress.

As babies we have this unconditional love for and dependence on our parents. The former decreases into a conditional, colder, more thoughtful love, and the latter simply wanes into the abyss. As we get older our heart grows , we love less, we think more, and yet we feel more. How is that our heart grows, we believe more in feeling, but we love less? These are the proportions of which I speak. Our capacity to love shrinks as our desire to love grows.

‘Tis a dastardly thing.

June 14, 2010, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Self Discovery

It’s funny. growing up in the normal suburbia of 21st century pampered life you lose touch. Whether it’s the cookie cutter houses or the preferred texting over voice-to-voice or, *gasp*, even face-to-face contact the ties to mother-nature, or even basic biological sincerity that is cherished in every primate community except the human community, are severed.

It’s easy to forget, living in the anthropological-centered world that we are majority-raised in, that simply 300 years ago in Florida swamps covered everything. Even 20 years ago the neighborhood that I’m so intimate and familiar with didn’t exist and there were trees in which birds and squirrels and insects held ecosystems that were just as intricate as ours exists as today. It’s hilarious even that we as humans started in touch with Nature just like every other organism in the world, lost touch with it, created things to examine and make up touches with it, and now have found the one thing in Science to get back in touch with it and it is taught and absorbed as boring or trivial.

I digress, this isn’t really about Science. As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to value a lot more. Not only value for new things but increased value for things that have been around me my whole life. I remember early mornings in high school when I use to meet the bus at the corner that I met every bus from 3rd to 12th grade. I used to see these Earthworms in the rivets made for rain water run-off. They were usually being attacked by ants. They were definitely going to be killed by ants. Fast-forward to when I got home from school and there were leftover worms – dried up of course. Fast-forward again to my decision to start Vermicomposting this summer. I’m the kind of guy that when I find an interesting thing I make sure to explore every crevice of information that I can. One could call my late-night information gorging as obscene.

Anyway, if you aren’t familiar with Vermicomposting it is basically using Worms (as well as many different microbes that proliferate in certain conditions and break-down decaying organic matter) to recycle your food and anything “organic” (newspaper, cardboard, etc..). The end product is their poop, which happens to be a very rich organic fertilizer. My point in saying all of this is that on those mornings when I saw those worms I thought nothing of them. I thought nothing of them even though one could argue that the stomach of worms has seen the contents of the world and filtered out a beautiful, rich soil. In the absence of knowledge one can neglect such monumental and marvelous things.

As Charles Darwin said, “…it may be doubted if there are any other animals which have played such an important part in the history of the world as these lowly organized creatures.”


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