Political Wars

What’s a “political” war?  Is it different from a “military” war?

Very different.  Let’s start with today’s war.

It’s against the new evil in town; the Daesh.  Formerly known as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and a few other names.

The new name is Daesh.  It’s an attempt to get all these names straight.  It our way of refusing to let the bad guys set our agenda.  It also respects innocent and good-hearted muslims.  It’s also a great way to “stick it” to those evil-doing Daeshers.

So, after the Paris attacks of 13 November, 2015, I started looking more closely at the doing of these devils.  Not only what they were doing, but what we were doing to them.

Turns out that they have a sophisticated organization going on.  Very complex, highly disciplined.  The only way to have that kind of organization so early in the game is if there was a lot of money available in the beginning.

A lot of money.

They get much of their income from robbing banks, stealing from innocents, and working the oil wells and refineries that they have taken over.  But they didn’t always have these sources, especially in the very beginning.

So where did the money come from initially?  Someone had to bankroll this outfit.  Who?  This is suspicion number one.

Suspicion number two starts with a report from the US Government.  They held a press conference stating that they were having a problem disabling Daesh oil wells and oil refineries.

Their solution?  Start bombing the trucks transporting oil products.

Really?  Can this be something the government expects us to believe?

We have bombs that can level cities.

We have missiles that can find a closet in a specific room for any address in the world.

And the US Government can’t disable a refinery?  What’s really going on?

That’s suspicion number two.

There’s something going on, something having to do with lots and lots of money, and probably connected to those oil fields and refineries.

Without getting all conspiracy crazy, there is one conclusion that appears inescapable: This is a politically run war.

Yes, politicians are calling the shots.  That’s what makes a political war, well, political.  A military war is run by professional military men.

In a political war, political interests, such as oil companies, are helping guide military policy.

I can hear their argument now.  “Take out the oil refinery?  Can’t do that, because someday my company will use it again.  Think of all the money that will cost to rebuild!”

Instead, our political leaders tell our soldiers to fight Daesh with kid gloves instead of teaching them the meaning of real war.

Real war?  The US hasn’t fought a real war since WWII.

To their credit, President George Herbert Walker Bush and General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. executed one of the best “wars” in modern US memory.  In the “First Gulf War” of 1992, they quickly and successfully repelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

 

However, compared to WWII, it’s a drop in the bucket.

WWII was our last true military war.  Korea, Vietnam, and the ongoing “Gulf War Two” are all being commanded by politicians.  These are the last people on Earth who should be in charge of making quick life and death battle decisions.

Politicians are trained to listen to all interested parties, drag their feet, and only then make decisions by consensus that please as many important people as possible.

Our fight, our war, against Daesh and terrorism in general is not a military war, but a political war.  Given the fact that there is “dark money” in the background, and that dubious excuses are being given by the US Government as to their battle success, the conclusion seems inescapable.

This is a political war.

And with history as our teacher, there can only be one outcome.

Tusok

 

Why Hate?

Hello there Gentle Readers!  Did you miss me?

Probably not.  I haven’t heard a peep here in the past  few months.

I’ve been busy finishing up my book on hate.  Yes, you heard right: hate.

I decided I needed to understand hate in our world more completely.

I also decided, and this was silly on my part, I also decided to try and explain what I learned in a way so that it could be understood by as many people as possible.

Well, that was crazy!  I didn’t realize it was going to take me about FIVE YEARS to complete this project!  FIVE YEARS!

But finish I have.  A friend is helping edit the final draft of the MS, and he’ll be done very soon.  Which means we’ll be ready to look for an agent, or crowd-funding, or something similar to get this baby out the door and into the city streets where she belongs.

Let me know if you’d be interested.  Maybe I should post a chapter or two?

If there’s anything you always wanted to know about hate, just ask.  I’m prepared for anything.  It’s also everything you didn’t want to know as well.  Very comprehensive I was.

For me, the best parts are where hate comes from and why it exists.  Quite the surprise.

In the meantime, I’m back to writing short essays as the mood comes.  Feel free to ask questions or make suggestions.  I’ll probably start a few essays discussing hate in our world as well.

Now that the book is done, I’ve gleaned insights I wouldn’t have before.

Best wishes to everyone.  Thanks,

Tusok.

 

Chinese Ramen, Japanese Okonomyaki, and Human Hate. What’s the connex?

Yes, you read it right.  Chinese ramen, as served up in Japan.  Japanese okonomyaki, a crepe cabbage noodle pancake as down-home as American hamburger, and so TAY-STEE!  And finally, hate among us.  Stay with me, it’s a lot more promising than you think.  But first I have to take you back to where this all started, to a few months ago.

I love to draw lines between what we think we know, and the behaviors we see.  A lot of our current conceptions about behavior don’t make sense, and I enjoy pointing those out.  But they are exactly that – lines – observations – musings – and though many people find them interesting, nothing else really happens.

I do enjoy this writing business, and I guess you do, too, because you’re probably a writer as well.  I’m looking forward to seeing yours, since I’m showing you mine!  But there also has to be progress, some kind of improvement, a direction of getting better.  I, you, all of us work hard to get our words out there, into the wilds of the internet.  I want to think that all our hard work, all our hopes and well wishes amount to something.  They have to!

PART ONE

It was with this state of mind when I left the country.  It was business, but writing is always on my mind.  China was first.  And before you jump to thinking that Chinese ramen is from China, not so fast!  But to whet your appetite, here’s a picture.

Tender smoked ham, beef, super broth, and FRESH noodles!

Chinese style ramen in Tokyo, a hole-in-the-wall shop a few steps from Daimon station’s exit A3.

 

Bejing was great.  The Forbidden City, Tianamen square, some of the markets, wonderful.  We only had a few days so our visit was limited.  The atmosphere was a bit hard to take, what with pollution and a heavy-handed political presence everywhere.  Now Shanghai, that’s a city.  A bit bigger than Beijing, with way more lights, happy citizens, a better subway system and fun places to eat.  Oh, and for those who plan to visit, check out the BIG Buddha in Fenghua.  Take your walking shoes and prepare to be amazed!

China and Chinese food aren’t the point of this story.  I’ll have to tell you about the Beijing pancake (tasty) and the fried scorpions on a stick (invigorating, they say) and the wine that’s fermented with a huge snake and huge centipede (no, did NOT try it).  Japan is where our story really starts.  China was an important part of the background, but aside from a few foods, the real fun is in Japan.  [1]

If you’ve not been to Japan, I’ll do my best to describe it for you.  If you have, skip ahead, because you know I won’t be able to do it justice.  Japan is a country where public courtesy, cleanliness, and classiness are valued very highly.  Unlike the US, you won’t find their attention focused on greed and celebrity.  That’s not to say bad things don’t exist, they do, but at levels far lower than in the US or Europe.  The Japanese like things to be precise, pretty, and at the same time functional and respectful of the environment.  Japan is the only country I know where a teeny-tiny restaurant may have a rock garden or koi pond buried within, taking up the space of a table or two.  That island of peace and beauty is important to them.  In the US we’d rip it out and try to make more money.  In Japan, it’s not about the money.  And this attitude extends to their foods as well.

There are so many wonderful foods to enjoy in Japan it’s hard to know where to start.  It’s much harder when you’re in the middle of Tokyo, you’re hungry, and you don’t know where anything is!  Do I want Japanese curry (not related to India, sorry), or sushi, or sashimi, or eel (fresh or salt water?), or oysters, or something fried, or a great bowl of soup?

We passed many great restaurants one day in the vicinity of the Tokyo Prince hotel, in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower, ignoring the repeated calls of many restaurant hawkers handing out their menus and trying to entice us into their high-story restaurant.

We came to this hole in the wall, only a few meters wide.  Inside were bar stools for eight and two tables for two.  That was it.  Outside there was a line.  We liked the smell and I got in line.  My wife went to the cashier machine and punched the tickets for our choices, I had the roasted garlic ramen.

We moved up to where we could sit on two stools and  handed our tickets over.  And we watched the magic.  As a pasta fiend I’m passionate about my noodles, and these were freshly made.  They may have even been handmade because they were so roughly cut.  And deep yellow, meaning fresh wholesome eggs.  Two bundles were put into baskets and plunged into roiling hot water.  The broth was spooned from a huge cauldron into our bowls.  I’d seen him hammering away with a huge pestle inside the cauldron earlier, and when I saw the broth I knew why.  In that vessel they were cooking more meat and everything that goes with it so that we had a fresh, extremely tasty base to our soup.  Any soup connoisseur will tell you the true secret to great soup is the stock, and this was good looking stock.  Then came the sliced meat, the egg, and all the other spices and vegetables, and viola! there was our meal in front of us.  Incredible.  Wholesome, inexpensive (about ten US dollars each, not bad for downtown Tokyo!), fast, and totally devoured by yours truly in about 5 minutes.  Then I had some of my wife’s as well.  (Mine was better.)

PART TWO

A few days later we were in Hiroshima.  We always take the bullet train because it’s so much fun to speed along almost 300 kilometers an hour (over 150 miles per hour!) in something that’s so big and smooth.  Hiroshima is wonderful because of the Peace Park (site of the first atomic bomb used in Japan in 1945) but also the wonderful floating gate and temple on the island of Miyajima.  There is also many incredible foods to eat, but they are most famous for their oyster beds.  If you like oysters, you’ll LOVE Hiroshima.

Tucked away in the train station there are a few restaurants, and we luckily found one that was perfect for our needs.  We were even luckier in that we found it when we arrived, and liked it so much we ate there again when we were leaving!

Pictured here is where we sat, right at the griddle!  And it was huge, about 1 x 3 meters in size.  There’s the back of our cook, she was a fun lady and didn’t mind me making ooohing and aaahing sounds the whole time.  That’s a freshly made okonomyaki sitting there in front of me.  You can almost see the layers, so many layers, within each one.

First she starts with a kind of sourdough crepe on the griddle.  As it cooks she dumps on about two handfuls of freshly cut cabbage.  No bulk supplies here!  As that cooks down a bit she puts on some dried and friend shrimp bits, for saltiness and flavor. Then comes a little bit of shredded cheese, and on top of that are three thinly cut strips of pork.  They look like bacon, but they aren’t smoked.  At which point she presses the pork into the griddle, then slides her spatula under the crepe and flips the whole thing over!  This exposes the beautifully toasty crepe on top and starts cooking the pork directly.  At the same time she’s been cooking some ramen on the griddle as well.  Or you could have asked of udon (a thicker noodle) or some soba (a buckwheat noodle).

She then begins phase two!  She takes an egg and cracks it on the griddle.  She spreads the yolk around so that it’s broken and all cooking evenly.  On this she places spices and some veggies.  She will also start cooking whatever else you wanted on your masterpiece: ground beef, squid, more veggies, and of course, oysters!

Phase three. Once those have cooked a bit and the egg is ready, she flips over the main portion of the okonomyaki again, puts on the noodles, places the egg and all your extra goodies on top of that, and then another cook puts on the special sauce (like dark ketchup) and puts it on a plate.  Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a stool next to the griddle, slides it over to you right there!

So hot, so tasty, and so wonderful to watch and then eat.  Absolutely a great time.  For those who might be traveling to Japan, this is Hiroshima okonomyaki.  The same dish in Osaka, or Kyoto is very different.  And this dish in Tokyo, well, let’s say that you’ll be more impressed by the Chinese-style ramen.

 

Hot off the griddle in the train station!

Okonomyaki, Hiroshima style

 

PART THREE

Hungry and ready for more?  To be fair, that’s all for the food portion of today’s program.  Instead, we’ve arrived at talking about hate.  Now, how can one really ponder something as distasteful and slippery as hate, especially after indulging in such wonderful foods like these?

I have to.  I’m doing what I can to try and fight hate so that it doesn’t hurt so many people as it does today.  It’s almost always on my mind, and I have some really good ideas about how we can fight it.  But here’s the rub, no one seems interested.

I figure it’s my fault.  Like any restaurant, you create a dish and hope people like it.  The two restaurants above have crafted these foods to where they are extremely effective, even perfect.  But there’s a good chance they didn’t start that way.  Many hours and customers had to pass through those doors before they found the right combination that makes perfection.

Here’s where you can help.  What can I do to serve up a tasty meal that’s good for us to think about, but may be terrible to consider?  After all, there are many people who cringe about eating oysters, or raw fish.  But these things are delicious, and the Japanese have perfected many dishes.  How can I do the same?  Let me know your thoughts.

Sincerely yours – Tusok

 

Notes and Disclaimers:

[1]  For my Chinese friends, don’t get upset!  The China portion of my trip included more business entertainment, and when I’m with vendors and colleagues it’s important to let them lead the culinary crusade.  There was Peking Duck and Shangai Dumplings and several of those delicious Beijing Pancakes, but overall most of the meals were standard business settings.  You know the kind, where a huge table with a huge turntable gets filled with a hundred different dishes NONE of which I know the name of.  Several staff are always hovering about your private room and they keep filling your tea or drink (no, no NO snake wine please!) and the dishes don’t stop coming until you can’t eat any more.  There were TOOOOO many of those meals!  But we had such gracious hosts.

 

 

Believe me. Don’t believe me.

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve been cursed.  I’ve carried this curse since childhood, but it wasn’t until only recently that I recognized it as such.

It’s not a bad curse, like having things break when I touch them.  It has more to do with people telling me things.  I have a problem believing them.  Not the people, the things they tell me.  See?  There’s part of the curse.

I don’t combine the person with the thing they tell me.  To me, they are two very different things.  A person I love can tell me “We ate asparagus last night,” and I know that she believes that what she is telling me is the absolute truth.  The thing she said, we had asparagus for dinner, might be true, but then again, maybe not.  I check my memory to review.

Good news!  My memory and her statement match.  Yes, I believe her statement, but only AFTER I checked my memory.  But what if it doesn’t match?  More good news for my relationship, she’s always been right.  Well, almost.  But when she’s wrong it doesn’t matter.

The point here is that accepting any statement and immediately putting it into a box marked “true” is something that many in our society seem to have lost.  Perhaps we never had it.  This is most evident when watching any of our partisan political parrying. [1]

Is it just me or do Republicans in general seem to accept the statements made by their favorite entertainers lock, stock, and barrel?  I hear some of these statements repeated by friends or relatives of mine, and I think, “How can they actually believe this is true?”  Here’s two that come immediately to mind: “The arabic culture has never contributed anything of value to society,” [2] and “All teachers are being indoctrinated by a socialist out of New York City.” [3]

Their talking heads, whether it’s Fox or Rush Limbaugh, espouse incredible nonsense on a continuous basis.  Supposed experts back them up, but such false authority isn’t even needed.  There is something about the continuous vitriol and wild conspiracy theories that keeps these “conservative” minds drinking from the same unhealthy cup time after time.

The curse continues.  All I can do is shake my head, and worry about the future of my friends, and the future of our world.  Is the answer to let their leaders continue to manipulate them for their own greedy ends?  Or to somehow spread the curse, my curse, that some call skepticism.

I don’t know the answer – but perhaps you can help.  Any ideas?

 

[1] Full disclaimer: I started out as a Republican.  I converted to Democratic.  Then I became liberated.  Today I’m a fully committed Scientific Conservative.  But that’s another column.

[2] I took this one personally, as my culture also originated from the fertile crescent.  In fact, all of our cultures did.  I carefully pointed out that the terrible arabic culture has contributed many major advances to civilization, such as the arch, arabic numerals, and algebra.  And that was only for “A.”  They responded, “What have they done lately?”  I rolled my eyes.

[3]  The idea that any large group of people could be so indoctrinated so that they all believe the same thing is so absolutely ludicrous that I didn’t know what to say.  Even today, if we were to ask everyone in the world whether the Earth was round, we could find those who say “No.”  Even more incredible is thinking that such (generally) wonderful people as teachers could be taught to all think in the same way and accept a common doctrine.  I’m still not sure how to react to this one.  Ideas?

 

 

Watching the Putin follies

Last month the big geopolitical news was that Ukraine was imploding.  Russia, led by their intrepid Czar, Vladimir “bare chested” Putin, swooped in to save the Crimea.  What were they saving the Crimea from?  From the Crimeans, apparently.  Over the last decade or so, Russia has been moving in many Russians for business and military reasons.  Those Russians felt in danger, so luckily the Russian military has arrived to liberate and protect those poor people.  The fact that the Crimean legislature has decided to secede from Ukraine and join Russia is mere coincidence.

Let’s look at the BIG picture for a moment.  Please, step back from your computer.  There you go.  The big picture is this – Russia has always wanted Crimea.  They also wanted Afghanistan, but that didn’t go over as well.  The last time Russia made a play for Crimea was around 1850.  They had to give it back a few years later.  The reason?  They want it for the beaches.  Really.  The Crimea has access to warm water all year round.  Good for your tan, Vladimir.  Also good for your Navy.

Back in 1850, rising political pressure forced Russia to go home.  Today’s takeover is only a few months old, but the political pressure is already starting to rise.  You can tell how excited Putin is about the takeover by how hard his nipples are in those pictures.  Right after the takeover, very excited.  Today’s pictures, not so much.  Why?

Well, the Russian stock market is taking a hit.  Who has their money in Russian stocks?  Rich Russians, that’s who!  How much money are Putin’s pals going to lose before they start calling Vlad up in the middle of the night?  The conversation probably sounds like this:  “Hey, Vladdy, what’s the deal?  My dacha and my devushka are ditching me because I had to sell the two yachts!  Even my wife is getting upset!  Do something!”

Stocks aren’t the only pressure our modern society brings to bear on the Bear of Russia.  We are starting to freeze the bank accounts of Rich Russians and Russian companies.  Very inconvenient, don’t you know.  How would you like to jet off to London or New York and find that you can’t withdraw a million from your bank account?  Now you have to carry all that in cash – and you KNOW how bulky that stuff is!

So, if you’re crying for Crimea, hang on to your babushka.  This is only the beginning.  For the rest of us, sit back and enjoy the Putin Show.  I’m not “Putin” you on!  (Sorry.)

 

King on making a better world

This is from Dr. King’s book, “strength to love.”  I highly recommend it.

From the last paragraph in the Chapter / Sermon called “Our God is able” he says…

Three nights later, our home was bombed.  Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly.  My experience with God had given me a new strength and trust.  I knew now that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life.

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry.  It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future.  It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.  when our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and he is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.  This is our hope for becoming better men.  This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world.

 

Reporting stereotypes

Last week noted how reporting is a relatively new profession within our society.  As a profession, they have come a long way.  Yet there is a long way to go.

When a reporter tells us a story that contains a couple of facts, they can save time by resorting to a stereotype.  The word stereotype comes from the early days of printing.  A metal plate had to be made up of all the letters to be printed on a page of blank paper.  That was the stereotype.  We started using the word later on to mean describing something in very general terms.  “All computers are useless” is a stereotype statement for an old crotchety person, even though the rest of us think that is incorrect.

Reporters like to use stereotypes when they can because it saves them a lot of time.  If they didn’t, the story would take longer, and their mean editor would make them take out something else – like a boring fact or two.

When a reporter describes a particular challenge that a dark-skinned person has encountered, they like to describe it as a problem of “race.”  In our society, we used to like to describe different ethnic groups as different “races.”  The Italian race, the Jewish race, or even as “Red” or “Yellow” depending on their backgrounds.

The deep problem here is that these divisions are wholly contrived, they don’t exist in reality.  We made them up for emotional reasons, and they persist because people like reporters continue to use them.  Biologists, geneticists, and anthropologists have proven over and over again that there is no such thing.  We are all so similar as people that we may as well divide ourselves based on “gap toothed” or “pigeon toed.”

So, if you’re a reporter, please stick to the facts – the real facts.  And if you’re a student of behavior, remember that we are all alike in very deep ways.  You may have even been the victim of prejudice because of your skin color, but take solace in the fact that it wasn’t because of your race.

 

Doctor King is dead … Long live the King

Yes, today, the 15th of January, is his birthday, and Doctor King is still dead.

Because we’re a nation of convenience, and not slaves to detail, we’ll “celebrate” his birth on the 20th.  Because that’s a Monday.  Because it’s more convenient to have a 3 day weekend than to take a break in the middle of the week.

And that’s the exact opposite of what Doctor Martin Luther King Junior was all about.  He wasn’t about taking anything easy.  He didn’t believe in taking short cuts, or doing something because it felt better that way.

Everything I’ve learned about the man says that he was a fighter; he fought against injustice every step, every day, in every way that he could.  His weapons were the most formidable: Christianity, non-violence, his mind, and the ultimate weapon, love.

I was still a child when he died, too young to see him as great.  His stature has only grown, but his words weren’t so easily accessible during my youth.  Recently, as I researched a book on hate, I came across a collection of his sermons entitled “strength to love.”

Perhaps you have read it already.  In which case you already know how stirring his words remain, how thoughtful his ideas, and how penetrating his passion.

If you haven’t, please rush out and find a copy.  I’ll quote a couple of short passage to give an idea as to what you’re missing. [1]

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.  The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning.  He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.”

But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind.  The gospel also demands a tender heart.  Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.  What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

His words still resonate strongly, perhaps more strongly than ever.  For Doctor King, the struggles of the Cold War and skin-based segregation were the greatest evils imaginable.  Yet today, we have the creeping cancers of inequality of wealth, education, and desire for knowledge.  Dogma and diversion have replaced Ideals and Morality.  We have become complacent, drugged on our music and webby friends.

How would Doctor King fight the evils of today?  How would his tough mind and tender heart lead us through this latest tussle with evil?  I don’t know.  I am attempting to continue his work through writing like this, without measurable success.  He does warn against the evils that we see today, saying “A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” [2]  And it appears that we have softer minds than ever before.

So please, celebrate Doctor King’s birthday by honoring his memory; not only today, but as often as possible.  Yes, the King is dead; but Long Live the King!

 

 

[1]  These passages are from “strength to love” by Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Fortress Press in 2010.  The paragraphs quoted here are from pages 2 and 5, with each being the first paragraph leading sections 1 and 2 of his sermon.  The title of the sermon is “A tough mind and a tender heart” and not only serves to show what a wonderful writing this is, but could also be considered autobiographical.

[2]  Same book, same sermon, at the end of section 1.

 

Stories Must Die

I love a good story. Everyone loves a good story. Story-telling has been a profession for a long time, starting with Homer. [1] It’s one of the defining features of our species. There is good evidence that storytelling and social cohesion are strongly related. [2] So what’s with the title of this essay?

There is a great danger in story-telling. For one, story-telling is designed to appeal to our emotions: love, fear, remorse, regret, hopes, dreams, deep longing, even gratitude, to name only a few. The problem with emotion is that it’s not a good basis for collecting facts. Facts are best for understanding the real world. Emotions are good for feeling the world, without worrying about accuracy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with feeling the world instead of collecting facts. Like I said, everyone enjoys a good story.

Let’s get back to the danger. In the so-called social sciences there is a tendency to rely on the story as a form of both data collection and justification. This is in addition to having almost no rigor with respect to their definitions or methods. Go to any two social scientists within any specialization, and ask them to define any term. It’s almost certain that you’ll get two different definitions. And there’s almost as good a chance that each of them will have a story to go along with it.

No story, no matter how riveting, can rise to the level of quality we must expect in a true science. No physicist, no chemist, no biologist would rely upon a story to advance their knowledge within the scientific community. Absolutely none.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t have a place within the hard sciences. A hard-nosed hard scientist may use a vignette as a way of following an interesting lead. Perhaps there is a grain of truth that can be tested, verified, repeated, such that it meets the standards of science and can therefore be published to the rest of the scientific community. Perhaps the story makes the research more interesting for her colleagues. But there it ends. So many stories end up being only that, a story designed to entertain for a short time.

What’s the big deal, you say? What exactly is my problem with a good story? Why can’t it be chock-full of fact? Maybe I’m a story-hating geezer with hollywood issues? Perhaps you’re right. However, I can sum up the problems with a single word, muddy. Stories are entertaining, but they are never specific, so that too many things may be going on at one time. And when too many things happen at one time, it becomes impossible to point to any one and say, ah-ha, this factor is important for me to understand what’s going on. This brings us to the second fundamental reason stories shouldn’t be used; nothing is ever that simple.

What’s that you say? Gentle Reader? You would like a story to illustrate my point? Honestly, I’d prefer to not dirty up my argument here with some story. Rather, I’d like to try and convince you using an illustration of stories in general. Lately I’ve been doing research into our society’s attitudes towards hate. How we define hate is rather cloudy because we use the term very loosely nowadays, and the people that claim to be professionals in this area don’t help because it’s not in their best interests to refine the definition or their methods. They make their money writing books or being an expert on the newsy entertainment shows. However, since I’m neck-deep in hate, this could be the best place to find some recent examples about why stories are terrible sources of knowledge.

In the books that I’m reading, the stories they use tend to fall into two general categories. The first category is that of great atrocities perpetrated during wars. Of course there are many wars to choose stories from. You could say that there is always a war going on somewhere, and so there are many atrocious stories going on all the time. True, and sad. So the first example of stories within a whole class of war is the one that has to do with the formation of our great Union, an event that is collectively known as the “Trail of Tears.” In a long-standing confrontation between mostly European settlers and the much longer settled natives of the Eastern North American continent, the stronger European settlers were able to dictate many terms to the natives. Many of these terms revolved around access to land, and the ultimate conclusion was that natives were to leave their ancestral lands of the East for the great unknown of the West – a walk of several thousand kilometers.

Now, it’s hard to argue against the feeling that here is evidence for hate on the grandest of scales. An entire society, its government, its armies, and all its citizens were working against the natives of North America. And this newly formed government stood as a single entity attempting to eliminate not one, but many native cultures. They vilified the natives in print, stole from them when they could, cast them as red and inferior, and ultimately moved them from East to West. They even described them with their own words in ways that were meant to hurt. [3] Many thousands perished during the forced marches. [4] One can imagine the old and the young dropping off the side of the trail, or being carried away by raging streams or rivers. Those who were sick or unprepared, starved away. There were those who were wounded, and unable to obtain rest and care, left at the side of the trail, unable to be sustained by their families. Is this not all the product of hate? Who in their right mind would argue that this was not the product of hate? Who?

Well, me. And I should hope, you, as a believer in learning methodically and rigorously. We have to be able to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what we are looking at is a fact, no matter what angle we look at it from. How in the world can the Trail of Tears not be looked upon as a great product of hate? Consider the following.

It is the rare story about the Trail of Tears that reveals the greater changes swirling about all those participants. There was the opposing world view of Europeans and Natives. The European believed they were chosen to take the land, had religious justification, and were motivated by great and omniscient powers. The Natives were weak, fought among themselves, and had not mastered technology to the level of the European. Add to all that these basic facts. Natives could not ‘hold’ their liquor. They were susceptible to strange maladies that often took their lives. They even looked very different, in ways that Europeans could only understand as being related to evil. It was for many of these inherent qualities that Europeans rationalized their own superiority over the native, further justifying the atrocities they perpetrated upon innocent people.

Today we have learned enough to know that because someone looks differently from ourselves, it does not mean that they are necessarily weak or inferior. We also know that someone’s genetic makeup does not mean they are less or better than ourselves. We also realize that most technology is relatively easy to master. The process of centuries of scientific inquiry can be passed to an open mind within a few years, such that it becomes as familiar to them as it is to us. And the reasons the natives couldn’t withstand the evils of alcohol, fell victim to a wide variety of diseases, and even looked differently from the European is because they were of a different genetic heritage. For millennia the peoples of the Americas had lived in biological isolation from the rest of humanity. The scourges that ravaged many in the Old World weren’t known in the New. As a result, the lessons of smallpox, mumps, and other relatively minor ailments to a European proved deadly to the native. The survival of the fittest was in full force, and only those natives who had immune systems robust enough to withstand the European germs survived, hopefully passing those innate talents onto their children.

In addition, each side of this conflict looked at the world very differently. For the native, the land was enjoyed passively; for upon it they hunted and gathered what was needed. For the European, the land was something to work, to harvest from, to change to their needs, and carve away from others in order to protect and pass those assets from one generation to the next. Europeans wanted to own their land to do whatever they pleased. Natives only enjoyed the land, leaving it untouched for their children to do the same. So, not only was their a clash between groups of different technologies, different genetic makeups, but also different ways of looking at the world.

Is there more that we can find to try and understand the conflict between Europeans and Natives? Of course. Technology, genetics, world views, these are great forces, and they are not all there is. There are more, and they are always influencing us. It’s important to realize that though there is great pain and suffering, though there is what we perceive to be great injustice in the world, it is not always something that can be simply categorized as hate. We must be careful in our understanding, otherwise we will not truly know the subject.

And here is the whole point of this story, oops, essay. Stories will entertain you, but they rarely teach rigorously. They are used by expert writers to make a point. Many successful business writers use stories exactly for this purpose, and business-people are quick to consider the writer an expert because of the quality of the story. But even a few questions about all the other great forces involved can shred the best story in minutes. Stories can’t teach the truth.

Only facts teach truth. Facts that you and I can verify independently of each other. Facts that hold up over time. Facts that stay facts for as long as time itself. And that’s the kind of stuff that we as students of behavior should insist upon.

And that’s a fact.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fagles I’ve read several versions, and Fagles translations are spectacular. They make modern literature and drama pale in comparison. And the audio versions read by professional actors are riveting. Check them out!

[2] http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za/storytelling-for-social-cohesion-a-message-from-professor-njabulo-ndebele/ There are so many examples where people claim exactly what I state above. Of course, as a true scientist, you are skeptical – we can’t take someone’s word about a fact, any fact. And that includes me!

[3] http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/squaw.html

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

 

Fiery Fears

Pains real. Fears not.
Pains denied, Fears alive.
Pains accepted, Fears rejected.           (anon)

There’s a pair of decent books tackling the tricky subjects of hate and fear. [1] I’ll say more about them later, but Rush Dozier makes one particularly provocative statement; humans are the only species that isn’t innately afraid of fire.

Is it true? An internet search doesn’t tell us very much. Maybe it’s one of those universal truths that modern science doesn’t deem interesting enough to verify. Scientists, like the rest of us, assume that it’s true because everyone else since the beginning of time has also assumed it’s true. I don’t want to make any waves, so let’s agree. Humans are the only species on Earth that isn’t afraid of Fire. We’ll take this as a fundamental truth, and call it axiom number one.

What I mean by innate is that there is nothing about not being afraid of fire that isn’t learned. In fact, what I’m saying is that babies like fire. I’m pretty sure that most parents teach their toddlers to avoid fire. It’s pretty, it’s red, it’s inviting, it goes snap crackle pop, it’s warm, and – WATCH OUT! You’ll get burned! Did this ever happen to you?

This is yet another statement that science should check into, using the same tried and true methods that have gotten us into skyscrapers and airplanes. Since it’s not a scientific fact, let’s make another bold statement; humanity’s lack of fear of fire is totally due to nature. This means that nurturing, or learning, has nothing to do with it.

Any behavior that is one hundred percent nature comes from our program. Our program is something we all know with no training required. Sucking mother’s nipple for food is something we want to do as soon as we get shoved out the birth canal. One hundred percent natural. And there’s axiom number two.

Biologists know that our program is written in DNA. That’s like saying this essay is written using letters of the alphabet. Our DNA program is extremely large, so it is divided into subroutines and extra apps, called genes. These are like the paragraphs and concepts in this essay. We have about thirty thousand genes, and they probably all work together. On top of this our genes have preferences, just like the apps on your phone. The settings are somewhat randomly chosen for us as soon as we’re conceived. There’s about three million settings for each of us. The professionals call these settings SNiPS – for single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Somehow, shared among all people, is a combination of genes and SNiPs telling us not to be afraid of fire. It’s one of the biggest things making humans totally distinct from all other animals. The same DNA, written differently, tells chimps, mice, birds and snakes to fear fire. We lack this trait, and all other animals have this trait. Yet, if you go back far enough in time, we will find an ancestor that links us to all other animals. Somewhere along the line, a bizarre combination of genes and SNiPs gave rise to us, modern man, with a new type of strange behavior. Biologists call distinct behaviors like this, phenotypes.

Here’s the craziest thing about fire. It’s powerful. It cooks meat and veggies so we can digest them more easily and stay healthier. Fire keeps bad animals away. Fire allows us to work when it’s dark outside. Fire changes ordinary Earth into extraordinary tools, like arrowheads, pottery, glass and steel. We are a species and a society born of fire. Yet, we take fire for granted. That’s too bad, because we should appreciate it for the great abilities it gives. So, the first step is to think back in time, to a period when we didn’t have this ability.

Go back far enough, say two hundred thousand years ago, and you’ll see our distant ancestors, hiding in trees, eating fruits and dirt, probably hanging about in small groups. They very likely acted much like today’s chimpanzees – our closest cousins. Let’s call this particular tribe ‘the standing up people,’ or Homo erectus. [2]

Now, as happens in successful tribes, there are babies. One particular baby was born with a set of genes and SNiPs that were very different from all the others in her tribe. It was a difference no one could see, but it was still there. She grows up, safe, sound, and happy. Then comes that fateful day.

The tribe is taking shelter from a storm, lightning and thunder surrounding them. They huddle together. Suddenly, nearby, a bolt of lighting ignites a pile of dead wood, bringing fire to life. The thunderclap, the light, the flare, and the living combustion of wood makes the tribe hoot, holler, and run away. That is, all but one. Our heroine has no fear, and has not learned to be afraid of fire. Instead of running, she gingerly approaches the bonfire rising before her.

She advances, observing everything in wonder. She picks up a long stick whose end is engulfed in flames, noting how it has acquired a smoldering sharpened point; the first hardened spear. Or she may have found a cooked squirrel, the first fast food.

Or, and this is the truly most wonderful moment in our ancestry, perhaps she looked up from her smoking spear and roasted squirrel and sees, across the flickering and snapping wood, another Homo erectus. He’s not from her tribe, and he, too, is not afraid of fire. The moment is right, she and he spend time together. And eventually you, I, and everyone we have ever known throughout history comes into existence.

In that moment, that Promethean portal gave birth to their love, their offspring, and an entirely new species. It’s quite possible that a single blaze sparked the rise of ‘people who think,’ or Homo sapiens. Our heroine was, in fact, Eve, the mother of all humans today.

What makes us so special? Our laugh? Dogs laugh, so not quite that. Our brains? Dolphins are bigger yet, and birds are proving to be pretty darn smart. Wars? Watch insects duking it out sometime. Our tools? Nope, birds and even some insects have those. Our high technology? There’s something to this. Where does all that technology ultimately come from? Fire.

We are a species forged in fire. It never would have happened if we hadn’t evolved the phenotype that describes not being afraid of fire. So, assuming that only one species, Homo erectus, isn’t afraid of fire, and assuming that behavior is one hundred percent natural, then we must conclude that this behavior is one of the most critical factors in differentiating us from all other life. Therefore, what made Eve so special was that she wasn’t afraid. It may be two hundred thousand years too late, but thank you Eve.

Think about that the next time you have to confront one of your own fears. Perhaps YOU could be the start of a whole new species.

[1] Fear Itself – Origin and nature of the powerful emotion that shapes our lives and our world.
and
Why we hate – understanding, curbing, and eliminating hate in ourselves and our world.     Both books by Rush Dozier. Published by McGraw-Hill, 1998 and 2002 respectively.

[2] Sequencing Y Chromosomes Resolves Discrepancy in Time to Common Ancestor of Males Versus Females, G. David Poznik, Brenna M. Henn, Muh-Ching Yee, Elzbieta Sliwerska, Ghia M. Euskirchen, Alice A. Lin, Michael Snyder, Lluis Quintana-Murci, Jeffrey M. Kidd, Peter A. Underhill, and Carlos D. Bustamante. Science 2 August 2013: 562-565.
and
Y Weigh In Again on Modern Humans, by Rebecca L. Cann. Science 2 August 2013: 465-467.