Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Should Overweight People Be Forced to Pay More at the Airport?

Long ago on my blog I wrote a short opinion on those who are overweight. In it, I proposed that we all be charged by our weight for entry to the subway system since overweight people take up more space. So for example, if a person weighs 250 pounds, they would pay $2.50 to enter the subway. I think it makes practical sense and has the potential to encourage others to live healthier lives.

I'm certainly not the only one proposing such types of weight related measures. I came across an article on businessinsider.com proposing a similar measure for airplanes. Peter Singer argues that since the extra pounds of overweight and obese passengers cause the airline companies to spend more money on fuel costs, all passengers over a certain weight should have to pay a surcharge, while passengers below that weight should be given a discount.

I like the idea a lot, and I can tell you that sitting next to someone overweight on an airplane is no fun. This surcharge proposal wouldn't be to humiliate or punish those who are overweight, it would be to pay for the extra fuel costs the airlines take on due to the extra weight of the passengers, just like how airlines apply a surcharge for heavy baggage.

Proposals such as this and the one I've suggested earlier of coarse have their critics, many of whom are overweight. It has been argued that the obese cannot help themselves and that their weight is do primarily to genetic factors. 'Tis true that there are a variety of genetic factors in how one maintains weight, but it is mostly people's ability to resist the temptation of eating to the point of excess when living in a world where surplus amounts of food are ubiquitous. I can surely eat much more than I do, but I resist the temptation of sweets because I know it will make me fat, and I care more about my health and appearance than I do the momentary pleasures of sugar-filled processed foods.

In other words, being fat is not like being gay. A gay person cannot choose what makes them sexually aroused, whereas a fat person can choose to eat less or eat more healthy when faced with insurmountable food options. I do sympathize a bit with those born with an addiction to food, but only to the same degree that I sympathize with those born with an uncontrollable sexual attraction to children.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Political Roundup: Three So Called "Controversies" Analyzed

Politics is in the air in this election year as the presidential race takes center stage. The good thing about this is that the media can report on the more substantive moral and legal issues that are flung from the otherwise predictive talking point rhetoric. Aside from the usual attack ads (thankfully New York is not a battleground state and is thus spared the worst of it) there have been huge debates recently regarding some of the issues that many of us in the 21st century, thought were concluded long ago that are worth mentioning.

I've always liked presidential politics ever since I was a kid, and it's usually the only time I pay really close attention to politics. Last election I voted for Barack Obama and I will so the same again this year. I don't always agree with what he has done, but for me, he is the far better choice than Mitt Romney, who I despise. Romney is so full of ethical self-contradictions it is beyond funny. He was a cutthroat corporate raider who put profits before anything else, and therefore in my mind epitomizes the sleazy, greed loving, business type who I think lack serious moral capital and is responsible for so much bad in this world.

I have spent a lot of time articulating my dislike for religion and the actions of religious authorities on this blog. But as our society becomes more and more secular and as the power of the religious wanes, I wonder, will the Mitt Romney-esque corporatist replace them as enemy number one to those like me who want a free and open, liberal secular society bereft of corporate domination? I have no doubt that the threat posed by the Mitt Romney brand of business leaders is a threat serious enough to warrant its own blog, and is perhaps a bigger threat than those posed by Islamo-facists.

So no, I will not be voting for Mitt Romney, not ever. But in this election cycle some surprising debates came up that I've not mentioned. Abortion came back up, and contraception, and the second amendment has been looked at closely in light recent high profile shootings. Let me just rant on these issues briefly to put my take on them.

1. Abortion

Perhaps there is no more a controversial and divisive issue than abortion. While I don't particularly like the idea of an abortion happening, I am pro-choice on the matter because I do regard the fetus as a part of the mother's body and not an independent human being. A fetus, in its early stages of development cannot naturally survive outside the womb, and to me this is why I don't consider it an independent human being, capable of constitutional rights. The 1973 Roe Vs Wade decision of allowing abortions in the first two trimesters is I think a fair compromise. So I am pro-choice on the matter of abortion and every argument that I've heard otherwise has failed to change my opinion, even Christopher Hitches'.

2. Contraception

The recent hoopla about contraception was in regard to whether healthcare providers should be covering it considering the moral objections of those on the right, mostly motivated by their faith. Now if I support abortion rights, of coarse I support contraception too. But should healthcare providers be forced to cover and pay for it? Yes. They are already covering things like circumcision, which many people including myself object to. But I am not in a religion and so my objections don't matter, right? If we're going to allow religiously based objections concerning this-or-that than why shouldn't we allow all objections? It's not like all religious people think contraception is wrong since about 90 percent of women have used it. And anyway, according the the Obama administration's compromise in the way contraception is handled by insurance providers, religiously affiliated institutions will not be forced to subsidize it, that will be handled directly from the insurance providers themselves. The bottom line is that I do not respect to any higher degree, the objections made my religious institutions than I do the objections made by organized secular ones.

3. Gun Control

I'm not sure if I've mouthed my opinion on gun control before but I generally agree in the individuals right to bear arms. It's in our constitution and it is a fundamental American right. That being said, the debate revolves really over what federal or state regulations are going to have on the sale of high powered assault rifles and the amount of ammo that can be bought. It certainly is fair to have reasonable restrictions on gun sales to convicted criminals, and the mentally unstable. And there is nothing wrong with making sure anyone in the market for a fully automatic rifle has to go through a few extra background checks. But should these types of rifles be banned altogether? Some say yes, some say no. Assault rifles have been banned in the past. It is not necessary for the hunter or protector of one's property to have fully automatic slugage capacity. So therefore I think a ban on automatic assault rifles is justified. Other than that, I strongly support the legal sale of guns to American citizens.


These debates are far from over but I will say that President Obama takes the side that I usually fall on. He's a social liberal who has protected the second amendment as I would want him to and he has passed tougher regulations on banks and corporations. Since we all know that the banks and corporations have our politicians in their back pocket, this fight along with the fight against religious bullying are the two fights worth shedding blood for. May the debates rage on!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Generation Why?

I am now 30 years old. I don't know how it happened, but it did. My twenties somehow vanished. But I have the ability now to reflect back on 20 years of cultural change. I was reading recently about my generation, the so called "millennials", also known as Generation Y. No one fully agrees when the dates of any generation begin and end, but Generation Y usually begins around 1980 or 1981. I am very lucky to have been born just before the internet and cell phones became ubiquitous because a whole generation of teenagers now have no idea what it is like not to have the internet instantly at the tip of their fingers via a laptop, tablet, or smart phone.

Back in the early 1990s when I was a young tween, nobody had heard of the internet except for some of those deep in the IT industry. It has been said that this was the last era of innocence in the America. In order to get porn, we had to get our hands on a magazine, which wasn't always so easy, or we had to get access to the dirty channels on cable, which also wasn't so easy. Now all of that trouble is gone due to the internet. The early 90s was the last time when you didn't have mountains of information so easily accessible just like parents didn't have.

We didn't have cell phones either. If you wanted to call someone outside you needed a payphone and the person you were calling had to be home. I remember when the beeper was the hot must have item, especially among Hip Hop heads. Of coarse I never had one. When cell phones started becoming more popular around 2000, it changed everything. Suddenly you couldn't pretend to not be home or have missed the call. Now you were accessible where ever you were, and there was backlash against it. I remember not being the only person I hung out with who hated cell phones when they first came out. Not only did you have to overhear people's annoying conversations outside, they always seemed to interrupt at just the wrong moment. I got a cell phone relatively late compared to most of my friends because I held out for so long until finally realizing resistance was futile. Now I feel naked leaving home without one.

Culturally I remember the 90s through the lens of the Hip Hop culture of New York, that was pierced with grunge. Until the late 90s, I never paid much attention to any other music other than Hip Hop. For me most of the 90s was baggy pants, wannabe gangsta looks, fades, graffiti, Wu-tang Clan, and bike rides around my 'hood on my BMX. During my Jr. High School years I used to hang out with this older Romanian kid who had zits all over his face. He was a trouble maker who used to lie constantly to show off. Behind a hill we called Dead Man's Hill there was this abandoned lot a block from my house that the neighborhood kids and us used to break into. It had an abandoned gas station in it that you could go into and there was a tree with a rope hanging from it that you could swing from like Tarzan over a pit of broken glass and rocks. There were a lot of second generation Irish kids in the neighborhood back then that I used to know and occasionally hang out with. Most of them were troublemakers, who used to fight all the time and engage in petty vandalism. We'd smash out windows of the gas station, graffiti it up and occasionally light fires. It was like a shared club house. I never really liked any of them, and by the late 90s, most of them disappeared, probably having moved away in response to the neighborhood becoming more ethnic.

Throughout the 90s immigrants were moving in, mostly from East and South Asia and various parts of Latin America. I saw the neighborhood change from predominantly white in the early 90s, to predominantly Asian/Latino in the late 90s. When I was about 9 or 10 my best friend was this Korean kid who lived in my building. One day when we were hanging out in the lot near one of the many pits filled with broken glass and garbage and we ran into this huge group of older Korean teenagers. We befriended them and they told us stories of being jumped and having to fight with the white kids in the neighborhood who didn't like them. When I reflect back on these memories it's so weird, because today with how ethnically diverse Queens is, you would never imagine that happening, but back in the early 90s it was the reality for many of the first waves of immigrants who came to settle in the neighborhoods of Western Queens. I remember that day standing there, where all those Korean kids were standing on one side of the pit as if they were going to have their picture taken. I later found out that there were skin head gangs in New York back in the 90s. There was DMS the Doc Marten Skinheads, know for wearing Doc Marten boots. They mostly died out by the late 90s and I never ran into them. Had I been about 5 years older I might have known or seen some of them.

I remember growing up with Generation X in mind during the 90s. When I got to High School, my first encounter with metal and grunge culture enlightened me to a whole new lifestyle that I knew next to nothing about. I started hanging out with them and I learned about the music they listened to. Back then I thought this metal/grunge culture was very much a part of Gen X. Nirvana, although disbanded after the death of Kurt Cobain was still very popular, and it was Nirvana that I associated with Generation X more than any other. Gen X was the generation of not giving a shit about anything, of hating society, hating school, not conforming, and being nihilistic in every sense. I think of lot of us who came of age in the 90s identified with this ideology. Being at the cusp of Generation Y I feel halfway in between Y and X. I don't particularly feel like I belong to any generation to be honest, but Generation Y to me are all those 20 something hipsters you see in Williamsburg.

Characteristically Generation Y is said to be more socially conscious that its predecessor. Generation Y is Generation We, who cares about the environment, animals and social justice. It became cool to be active is some sort of positive social cause for change or justice. We are are clearly headed in the right direction if even a little bit, because as I've written before, the apathy of the black community in America is responsible for many of its cyclical problems: Let's hope that Generation X's apathy will not remain a long term generational practice. Furthermore since I'm political, I like being part of a generation that is socially conscious.

So when I reflect on my generation years from now what will I remember? I think Generation Y's care will have inspired the following generations to carry the torch, although I'm not all that concerned with it. I hope that the greedy corporate fucks who are running the show now, many of them Boomers, will die out as Generation X and Y replaces them with a more compassionate view of the world and the people in it. That's hope for you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Socialism--That Dirty Four Syllable Word

Let's be frank, all capitalist systems have in place aspects of socialism in them. It comes in the form of public schools, public libraries, public roads and transportation, public health coverage for seniors and the disabled, and so on. When it comes to healthcare, the U.S. is sharply divided on the role government should play.

Now I am no expert on healthcare or the economy, but I just for a moment want to ramble on with my two cents in the argument. If you've read my previous blogs, you'll know that I'm a leftist when it comes to economics and that is true when it comes to healthcare too. I am for government offering healthcare to all its citizens and here's how I think healthcare should be run in America.

For those happily covered through their own private insurers, they can stay with their providers. I don't have a problem with that. For the forty or so million Americans lacking health insurance, either because they're unemployed, their employer doesn't provide it, they cannot afford it, or they are young and healthy enough and they feel they don't need it, government should provide an opt-in single payer medicare for all type option.

It will go like this: If I'm employed and my employer doesn't provide health insurance, and buying private insurance is not affordable, the government will offer me a cheaper option and the premiums will be taken out as a slight tax increase. The overall increase in money that I will be paying through my taxes, will not be as much as even the cheapest private healthcare, and of course there would be no denial of coverage for preexisting conditions. Imagine a 2 or 3% increase in taxes, to pay for government provided health insurance. It could be far less cheaper than private insurance.

Now let's say I'm unemployed and lack healthcare and cannot afford to purchase private insurance. In this case government will provide it for free. The money will come from those employed paying into the system like I just mentioned above, along with (1) an increase on taxes for the wealthiest Americans by letting the Bush Tax cuts expire, (2) raising taxes on capital gains to 25%,  and (3) aggressively closing tax loopholes that the wealthy often exploit. The costs would also be balanced by cutting government subsidies to large corporations, having either cuts or a budget stabilization of the defense budget and new tax revenue gained from the purchase and sales of legalized marijuana. Other budget cuts on frivolous or bad performing government programs to save money will certainly also be considered. 

The payoff is that when people are covered, and are provided free preventative screenings, it will offset the more expensive costs when people show up in the emergency room with extensively progressed diseases. There will also be an incentive program where if people attend annual screenings they can get deductions on their premiums that are paid through taxes.

Now what if a person is gainfully employed and decides not to buy private health insurance or opt into the government option? Well they can be forced to pay the premiums they would have paid if they had opted into the program, with perhaps a penalty added to discourage those who think they'll just take their chances and not buy any insurance while thinking the government will just pick up the tab when they get sick.

One argument against government run healthcare is that it will put private healthcare out of business because they won't be able to compete with the government's subsidized costs. Well, I think a little competition will be great for recipients if their healthcare providers had to compete. First, the government will be insuring those that private insurers will already not be covering. Second if the program is run well enough that it makes people leave their private insurers for what the government provides, then they will simply have to lower their prices and/or offer better services to compete. I am not crazy about for-profit healthcare in the first place. Capitalism is the reason why we have such a broken healthcare system in this country, not socialism.

Do I believe in the mandates that other public options such as Romneycare and Obamacare speak about? To be honest, government mandates scare me a little. I don't like the idea of government forcing anyone to buy anything. But government forces drivers to buy car insurance. Why? Because every driver is in a system in which an accident is always possible. No driver can be absolutely sure an accident will not happen. Likewise, every person by virtue or their existence is in a system whereby they cannot be guarantee that they will never become sick or develop a disease. So much like how every driver must be forced to buy car insurance, because if there is not mandate, many will simply opt to take the risk, in theory, all people should be forced into having some kind of healthcare coverage.

With healthcare it is a little different though. If I am not able to afford car insurance, I could in some areas of this country, choose not to drive and therefore exempt myself from the pool of potential car accidents creators. With healthcare, I have no choice to opt out of any potential pool since my very existence makes me a candidate. I therefore do not believe in a government mandate because we have millions of people out of work who simply cannot afford healthcare and have no choice to exist in a pool of those who might need medical care. I really do believe that healthcare is a right, and that it should not depend on whether your employer provides it, or whether you can afford it. Thus, above I propose that everyone not covered be placed into a collective pool so that if they do get sick or would simply like a doctors visit, that will be provided free of charge, so long as they cannot afford it.

The individualist's opposition to this, who doesn't want a single penny of his taxes taken from him to go toward's anyone else's healthcare, must stop taking all aide that government provides, including public roads, schools, grants, mail, and defense. They must hire their own private military, police force, build and maintain their own private roads, schools, colleges, and programs that regulate everything from food to disease to air safety. Or else, they should shut the fuck up. If you're already willing to have tax dollars cover programs designed for the greater good, why wouldn't universal healthcare be one of them? We spend 16% of our GDP on healthcare, more than any other industrialized nation that provides universal coverage, and we get some of the worst results from it back.

It is actually a very Christian thing to do if you take the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the sick, even those with preexisting conditions, and championed the poor. I cannot imagine that the philosophy of Jesus, whether he existed or not, would be compatible with the hard right individualism of Republicans and Libertarians. It completely goes against Jesus' world views on the care for the poor, which is clearly in line with collectivism, and is actually socialist.

So there you have it. I'm no expert on healthcare or economics but I know that the status quo is not sustainable. We need healthcare reform and we need aspects of socialism to provide what private industry is not willing to do because it is not profitable. That's my two cents on healthcare reform and it is subject to change at any time if and when new facts are discovered.

One Potential of The Higgs Finding for Atheism

The other week I attended a lecture by Prof. Kyle Cranmer at NYU about the new elementary particle found by the LHC at CERN believed to be the elusive Higgs Boson. Prof. Cranmer gave an interesting lecture on the history of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, its search for the Higgs particle, and the eventual finding of it on July 4th of this year. As a non-physicist and a non-scientist, it is hard for me to wrap my head around some of the more difficult concepts one must understand, in addition to the math, in order to fully understand the Higgs Boson's place in the standard model of physics. I won't go into detail here about the Higgs particle because my blog is not to inform you of physics, but if you wish to read more you can click the link here.

The finding of this new Boson is good news for atheists. Scientists now have a better understanding of the physical nature of the universe, and a deeper understanding of the universe means that we are that much closer to explaining the mysteries still prevalent into its origins.

I say as an atheist, that those who profess adamant belief in god rest their entire argument on the cosmological argument of the first cause of the universe's origin. We already have working theories on the way universes can be created out of nothing, notably by Prof. Lawrence Krauss, and now that we are a bit closer to understanding all of the physical components that make up the universe, we are that much closer to explaining in greater detail, the origin or our cosmos. It will be interesting to see as time progresses, what else scientists find concerning Dark Matter and Dark Energy, two mysterious phenomenon we know little to nothing about.

So for those theists still clinging to the cosmological argument, their fingers are getting pried off one by one as new discoveries concerning the universe's nature are made by scientists. With scientists like Krauss, some say there is nothing left for the theist to cling to at all.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Race Matters: Are Africans Less Intelligent?

Recently, I've been debating the relationship between race, intelligence and behavior with a friend. The debate revolves around the idea that there is a direct correlation between race and intelligence. My friend asserts that black people are genetically inferior, and are therefore incapable of the more complex thinking patterns that other races are capable of and are more prone to violent behavior. He cites various anecdotes in his life and history showing no advanced black or African civilizations as his evidence of the genetic inferiority of black African people.

Now we both are not ignorant to the controversy that shrouds conversations on such sensitive topics. But then again, I've never been a stranger to controversy. I actually relish in the idea of talking about the most taboo of topics with people such as religion, politics and yes, race also.

Now I acknowledge, along with my friend, that here in the U.S., there are definitely problems in the black community involving violence, poverty, educational gaps, income gaps, and family relations. I assert to my friend that these problems in the black community are cultural problems, and that there is no scientific evidence that shows that the brains of black people are incapable of the complex neurological transactions that other races have, and if there was, I would love to hear a reference. Now while I am still waiting on this promised reference, I am being accused of following the example of, and being a puppet of, the liberal media, which over and over again asserts no difference in intelligence among the races.

I don't particularly like being called a puppet of the liberal media, because I definitely have my criticisms of it, and I've even accused this same friend that he too is a puppet of the liberal media, because he's sympathetic toward Islam in that he thinks Islam is a religion of peace. I want to take a moment here to put into words why I think culture is to blame for the problems in the African American community.

A Culture of Apathy

One of the main problems affecting the African American community is a culture that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it was a virtue. This is in large part a legacy of the institutionalized racism that existed throughout most of American history and even before. The constant inculcation that blacks are inferior does have lasting psychological effects leading to feelings inferiority, and apathy can result as a process. For example, my dad was very verbally abusive when I was a child. He'd yell and curse at me repeatedly saying that I was stupid for making the slightest infraction. This as you can imagine, was not very helpful for my self-esteem growing up in my formative years and I was plagued in insecurity. I would sometimes not even try at achievement or do a half ass job, because I didn't feel I was good enough or worthy enough. On a larger scale, the systematic assertion that an entire race is inferior and less intelligent, can produce the same results that I have experienced in my youth.

This is the first step that establishes the main problem facing African Americans today. It is apathy that leads black kids to drop out of school, not care about striving in the workforce, and not taking care of their family and children. This behavior then becomes in a way, fetishized and ingrained in the culture to become as expected norms. And it is this, that makes the impact of apathy so devastating on a multi-generational and cultural basis.

The Epic of Violence

Let me now address the most visible problem today in the African American community, and that is of course, violence. We all know the statistics: young black men commit a much larger proportion of violence than their population. In New York City where I live, blacks represent about 24% of the total population, but they represent 61% of all homocide perpetrators and victims according to the New York Times. Similar statistics are reflected in other large American metropolitan areas.

Now the violence that plagues the African American community is I believe, a result of fear. Let me explain. Throughout American history, black people were routinely attacked, harrassed, subjected and humiliated. Black people had to be tough on the outside as to not show fear and intimidation by whites, and they had to assert their voices and rights, sometimes violently. They were for much of American history, forced to submit to the white majority and once they got their "freedom" so to speak, once they were able to assert their rights and voices, they did so vehemently. It was generally around this time, the 1960s, that we saw levels of violence in the black community dramatically rise.

When people fear you, that gives you a sense of power. White people often fear black people because of the statistically higher numbers of violent black criminals. As long as the statistics stay high in this regard in favor of violent black behavior, black people will continue to produce fear in the hearts of white people as well as other black people, and this I think for some black people at least, is used as a cloak of power. In other words, as long as black people continue "keepin' it real" as it is said in the 'hood, by keeping levels of violence high, they will be feared, and this fear will give them power. And it is this strive for power that is a reaction to the centuries of terror, humiliation and subordination that was forced on black people.

The Irish, Italians, and many Eastern Europeans were the subject of discrimination by Northern European WASPs in the new world, and were regarded as ethnically inferior and incapable of the higher levels of living that the ruling class WASPs were. Eventually larger numbers of these groups began working their way up the social and economic ladder as many African Americans have done. The main difference, is that those perceived inferior ethnic whites can much more easily blend into the WASP majority and become part of "White America". Black people will never get that luxury. They will always be distinct from the white majority as a result of their skin color, and this creates isolation where cultures of apathy can grow and flourish.

The Impact of Family

The reason why Asian Americans and Jewish Americans excel so well in acedemia, economics and why they have a tendency towards low levels of violent criminal behavoir, is culture. Asians and Jews have cultures where there is a very high level of expectation on education, business, and family. Family is the key to eradicating the culture of apathy. If children are raised with love, care, and are given the confidence and the moral guidelines conducive to engaging in a civil society, they will help grow a culture bereft of the embrace and nurturing of apathy. This is largely absent in the African American community.

One of the engines driving the continuation of the culture of apathy is the broken family. When you have a culture that doesn't respect responsible fatherhood, you will have problems. This is evident in black culture, such as Hip Hop. Furthermore, there are numerous examples of bad parenting even when there is a father present. Black comedians like to point out the differences between white and black parents on the issue of corporal punishment. It seems from studies that corporal punishment is more accepted and pervasive in the black community. When you use violence as a means for solving problems, you reinforce the idea that violence is an acceptable way of solving problems, and this leads to an overall increase in violent behavior.

Now in many East Asian cultures corporal punishment is pretty pervasive but we are not seeing Asian Americans blast each other away with semi-automatic weapons at the same levels we see among African Americans. This is because of a few primary factors. First, the overall family structure is better, in that there are more responsible fathers present. Second, the East Asian cultures do not have the history of racism and slavery to the same level that African Americans have had in the U.S. Third, in East Asia there exists a culture that places a high level of successful academic and business expectations, and a high importance to provide for the family, which is often extended past the nuclear family. African immigrants to the U.S. often are not entrenched into the cultural apathy that many African Americans are, and therefore are often more successful in academia and business. African Americans, because of the institutionalized slavery and racism in the U.S. are disconnected from their cultural African roots which values education and family.

The "Acting White" Dilemma

Finally, I want to address the societal scarlet letter in African American culture, that is being accused of acting white. This accusation is perceived by some as forfeiting one's African American cultural identity. The idea that speaking proper English like many white Americans do, getting good grades in school, obtaining higher education, and becoming a productive member of the work force is a forfeiture of African American cultural identity, might just be the single biggest cultural hindrance for the advancement of African Americans today. The same problem plagues some Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants in Europe who are marginalized, and prone to criminal behavior. They come from conservative Islamic Asian cultures that doesn't always mix well with the open liberal modern day cultures of Europe. This cultural isolation, leads to the same culture of apathy that has beset African Americans in the U.S.

Is it not apparent that African Americans who "act white" are generally those more successful in academia and business and have a better family structure? The "acting white" dilemma can only be addressed if there is a change in African American culture, whereby intellect, pursued for its own sake, and family responsibility are seen as virtues. If these virtues are not embedded into the culture, represented by positive role models, the culture of apathy will continue, generation after generation, as it has in the past.

What About Africa's Problems?

So I have outlined the main reasons why I feel the problems in the African American community are manifestations of culture and history, but what about Africans in Africa? Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book addressing the distributions of wealth and advancement among all the world's people's in Guns, Germs and Steel. Regarding the technological superiority of Europeans over Africans, he writes "food production was delayed in sub-Saharan Africa (compared with Eurasia) by Africa's paucity of domesticable native animal and plant species, its much smaller area suitable for indigenous food production, and its north-south axis, which retarded the spread of food production and inventions."

Simply put, it is an accident in geography that has plagued Africa: it contained no native animals that could be domesticated; and it contained few native plants suitable for agriculture. Agriculture and animal domestication are the first steps required to evolve past the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. It is only with this, that a society can develop writing and metallurgy, the tools necessary to reach something like an industrial revolution. Eurasia, with its vast east-west axis, numerous domesticable animals (13 compared to Africa's 0) and plant species was where agriculture was invented, and this gave those peoples a technological head start. Thus, it is on the continent of Eurasia, that we today see some of the richest and most advanced nations.

African nations today have been plagued with ethnic and religious violence, often under the rule of corrupt dictators. This is due in large part from the legacy of European colonization, in which political lines were drawn outlining countries, without consideration for ethnic and land distributions. The same problem faces many parts of the Middle East and South Asia, where once great societies have fallen from grace.

In conclusion, I'd like to say that me and my friend both acknowledge human evolution as described by modern science. Homo Sapiens came out of Africa approximately 50-70,000 years ago and we have been human for about 100-250,000 years. While I don't think there is any evidence that shows a distinction in the cognitive abilities based on race, I told my friend that I'd be willing to change my mind if he can produce unbiased, peer reviewed publications that show it to be true. Until then, just as I operate with claims of divinity, the default position is disbelief.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hipster

If you have lived in New York within the past 10 years or so, you've undoubtedly had to encounter, the hipster. The hipster's goal is to try to turn themselves into a moving canvas of stylistic, visual art, so that they can advertise to the world that they're cool. They pay very close attention to their hair and clothes, and every look is carefully designed to have significance, with an often historical context. For example, a hipster might be trying to achieve a look straight out of an obscure 70s film that garnished a cult following, or they might be trying to emulate their favorite post punk or rockabilly band. Being a New Yorker, I too of course have always been the type that has cared a little more than average about my style. Fashion to me is a means for expression that you give to the outside world. You might be the type that wants to say "I don't give a shit" and your fashion sense might reflect that, but I've always wanted to look cool, even if I wasn't.

Now the origin of the hipster, perplexes me. "Hipsters" or people fitting the generally agreed upon definition, have their roots at least as far back as the 1940s Jazz culture. These music aficionados didn't sport asymmetrical haircuts, or drink PBRs, but they use an in-group slang and were hip to things average folks new nothing of, like heroine. Then there was the beatniks of the 1950s and 60s, who often lived in the bohemian areas of cities in sort of urban communes. They were artsy, often into poetry, into left-wing politics, and had hair styles and facial hair that the "squares" of the day disapproved of. The beatniks evolved into the hippies, who grew their hair even longer and took their style even further than what was considered mainstream. The 70s and 80s brought in a lot of new styles, ranging from the yuppy, to the punks rockers, to the disco style. There was a small trace of the urban hipster in the most bohemian of neighborhoods through out the world at this time. I was a child of the 90s and looking back at the fashion back then I can tell you I would never want to revisit that style. The Hip Hop culture had seeped in, and everything became over-sized and baggy. There was an alternative skater culture that I remember well in the mid to late 90s that I did enjoy. I remember when side burns were in style wanting them so bad before I could actually grow them. They came, but just a little too late.

For me personally, since I was just about the right age at that time, the hipster revival came in the form of The Strokes. When The Strokes came on the scene, they had a style that was so retro, and so cool in such a New York downtown way, that I was instantly drawn to them. I never really got into their music that much personally, but their style inspired me and totally changed my direction fashion-wise. They made tight jeans cool again. I suddenly hated baggy pants and hated name brand fashion. I grew my hair longer, and I began shopping in vintage clothing stores downtown, looking for anything cool and retro that wasn't some commercial name brand ghetto hoodrat or preppy Abercrombie and Finch type shit (commercial retailers eventually caught up with this trend with mimicry, as is always the case when something becomes fashionable). And I wasn't alone. Suddenly all over New York's hipper neighborhoods, throngs of young people were tightening their pants, and adopting the retro styles that The Strokes had laid down for us. From my experience, this was sometime around 2001-2002, and the modern hipster was reborn.

With so many people, especially men, becoming so fashion conscious, it was only a matter of time before the "metrosexual" emerged. Now the metrosexual is not necessarily a hipster, in fact there are many significant differences. While a hipster and a metrosexual will both wear tight jeans, the hipster will often have longer and messier hair (usually in a very deliberate manner) while the metrosexual will often have his hair short and styled. The hipster will often have a scruffy or full on lumberjack beard, whereas the metrosexual will usually be clean shaven or sport a very neatly trimmed beard. The hipster is more retro, more vintage, and the metrosexual is more into designer fashion, often European in origin. They both are often skinnier than average, and might act a little more effeminate than the average male, but the metrosexual definitely takes the time to workout.

10 years after this cultural revival, hipsterdom is not dead as some critics have suggested. The epicenter of the scene in New York moved from the East Village, to Williamsburg sometime on the middle of the last decade. Hipsterdom has become a popular topic for discussion when with friends. I'm often asked, "are you a hipster?" "No", I reply, "I'm a fucking world travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual. I just have a sense of style." According to legend, no self righteous person, however fashionable, could admit to being a hipster.

Aside from the fashion sense of hipsters, let's look at the bigger cultural impacts. Unlike the hippies, hipsters had no draft to dodge, no cultural squares to rebel against. The war in Iraq, although it paralleled in some of the animosity against the Vietnam War, failed to mobilize the hipsters in large numbers, probably because there was no draft. The 90s culture full of its angry Nu-Metal and Hip Hop was just as sexually charged as any indie rock band. In fact, many of the indie rock bands that came out during, and in the wake of The Strokes, were softer and more romantic in their approach towards sexual relations than the bands of the 90s. The indie rock revival, of which the hipsters are synonymous with, was not a rebellion to push for more violence or more sexuality, that had already been pushed. I will say however, that homosexuality during the last decade has made a leap forward into mainstream acceptance, in part with help from the sexually liberal hipster culture.

What will the future hold for the hipster?

Some are saying that the hipster culture is dead. I just see it evolving into the mainstream like every other subculture until there is a significant backlash against it. What will the future bring in terms of fashion? The hipsters have already brought retro back. Even the clean cut looks of the 40s came back into style. Who knows? I don't really dwell on fashion as I do on topics of intellect. Drinking in Williamsburg today one does not see evidence of the hipster dying, and hipsterdom appears alive and well.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Understanding Zen and its Practical Applications

The Zen philosophy puts great emphasis on the perpetual now. The time is always now, it is never the future, it is never the past. And just like how spring doesn't turn into summer, and summer doesn't turn into fall, you don't turn into the person you will be tomorrow. You only exist and can only exist in the here and now. Thinking about this concept of time and of existence, I cannot escape my mind from my solidified western approaches to existence. And that is the belief that I am the same person I was, and the same person I will be, I change like the seasons do, and although I can only exist at the present, I am inextricably tied to my past. And so I struggle with this conflict, in hope of a reconciliation. I admit that I do dwell way too much on the past. Events that have happened years ago, often have their way of popping into memory, sometimes at the ugliest of times. Sometimes I am consumed with a past memory, that it makes me surrender to it. It controls me. The neurons and impulses in my brain that compose this thought have such power over me that I let it affect my future. This the Zen master, knows too well.

So how do I reconcile these two views on one's state of existence in relation to time? Our past certainly affects our present. If I had a child in my past, that likely means that I am a father now. If I ate some bad food in my past, that will affect my health here in the present. How does one not let the past affect the present when almost everything about the present is set down by events in the past? I think it's foolish to act as if the past doesn't exist, because it can lead to irresponsibility. So how then does the Zen master view time? Zen teaches that the past doesn't exist, and neither does the future, there is only the present. In other words, the me that existed in high school all those years who, does not exist. I only exist in the here and now. The me of yesterday also does not become the me of today. In practice, there is an important bit to be learned here. And that is that we too often let our past determine our future. When I had failures with women in my past, I learned that every new meeting with a woman was a unique experience, and that no problem I had in my past will affect this new encounter, unless I allowed it to. If I had let my past failures determine my future, every time I'd meet a woman, I would have already declared defeat before it started. A negative outlook on life is not a recipe for success.

The existence of suffering is one of Buddhism's four noble truths. Being that suffering is a bit different for everyone, its reconciliation is different as well. I am forced into an environment that that I don't like, around people I don't like, to do a job that I don't like. The stress from this is making me get older and am starting to see the results. I've passed the apex physically, and I know that from here on out, my body will be in a perpetual state of decline. This is beginning to cause me increasing depression. We all handle it slightly differently. The best thing I could do would be to get a new job, spend more time doing what I like and spend more time with people that matter to me. While easier said that done, it could be accomplished with enough diligence and hard work.

I am really scared of the effect that stress has on aging faster. I see gray hairs sproughting up where they weren't before. My skin looks weathered at times. I recently went shopping and bought a bunch of clothes a 23 year old would fancy. I feel a strong urge to desperately cling to my youth before it completely evaporates away. The stress I get from my job increases the aging process that is also causing me stress, and so I have a run away process that I ultimately will come out on the losing end of. I would like to practice meditation and to get back into nature. I need peace in my life. I need also to be around people that I like. I need to build strong relationships with like minded individuals, and indulge in my healthier passions. I need to stop listening to that voice in my head of negativity. I need to stop letting the past control my present and future. I need to be more confident in who I am and to stop putting false limitations on myself. These are all things I know in theory but need to be put to be put in practice. The Zen concept towards time and existence, I think adds a positive outlook to dealing with one's past. Do not let the past control your life. Treat everyday is a clean slate, with no residue from yesterday, to be filled in with new experiences.




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