Pro tip — You don’t have to know you’re making a racial slur for it to be offensive. If you didn’t intend it to be offensive, it just means you’re a fool, but not necessarily a bigot. Also, negligent is often worse than intentional.
Category Archives: Philosophy
I wrote the following four paragraphs a couple of days ago. Today (8/19/17) I ran them through the Hemingway app, which informed me the text’s readability score was 11th grade. It also pointed out numerous issues to address and suggested I aim for a readability score of 9th grade. I then worked to remove all the issues (well, as many as I thought made sense to me) and was able to bring the score down to 7th grade . . . in Hemingway’s algorithms. It still says three of the 14 sentences are hard to read. I’m adding the second version for readers to judge which they find more readable. Hemingway seems a little harsh. I suppose, if I were writing for the general public, it might make sense to shoot for 9th grade readability, but I’m not convinced it’s what I want to do. What do you think?
Readability score = 11th grade
In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months, mostly just outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.
Prior to our departure, we were required to undergo some pretty extensive training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Some of these classes were led by members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.
One thing I remember well from this training was the difference between racism, which we were taught is systemic and insidious, and bigotry, which is personal and obvious. I have occasionally posted about these differences, but I’m coming to the conclusion that current usage has blurred the distinction between the two. I have also decided maybe I should stop bucking the trend, as I find myself using them somewhat interchangeably as well.
It’s a bit disturbing, as it is ingrained in me that racism is embedded in our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior, while bigotry is evidenced by individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Nevertheless, just about everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I think I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!
Readability score = 7th grade
In May of 1973 I traveled to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I spent two months outside Havana, working and learning as a guest of the Cuban government.
Before our departure, we received training in history, cultural chauvinism, and the roots of racism and bigotry. Leading some of these classes were members of both the Brown Berets and the Black Panthers.
They taught us racism is systemic and insidious, while bigotry is personal and obvious. I have posted about these differences, but am concluding current usage blurs the distinction between the two. I have also decided I should stop bucking the trend, as I find I use them as well.
It’s a bit disturbing. I know racism infuses our laws, institutions, and normative cultural behavior. Bigotry involves individual prejudices and hatred or fear of the other. Even so, most everyone I read uses racism for what I would call bigotry. I’ve decided to give up worrying about the distinction, though I find it important. Carry on!
This is the third blog post I ever wrote, published at The Cranky Curmudgeon on February 25, 2006. It reads pretty much like I could have written it today which, when you think about it, is pretty disappointing.
“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
I don’t believe in God. I really don’t care if others agree with me. I only care that they respect the relationship I have with the Universe, whether it’s through a God, a group of Gods, or woven between the interstices of the space-time continuum contemplated by quantum physics. I believe that having convictions, and being secure in those convictions, means not needing to be validated by the acceptance of others.
I have a little difficulty calling myself an Atheist, only because I can’t prove the non-existence, anymore than anyone can prove the existence, of God. However, I don’t like referring to myself as an Agnostic, mostly because it sounds rather smarmy to me; like I’m not sure of what I believe. Mostly, I like to say I’m a Quantum Gestalt Humanist. You figure out what it means. I need to get to my rant.
How many times during the day, while driving to and from work, grocery shopping, dropping the kid(s) off at daycare or school, etc. do you see either those little fish (some plain; some with the greek letters for ichthus, or fish) or a window decal depicting a little girl or boy, or both, supplicating themselves in the shadow of a cross? What are these people trying to say? Is it meant to be some sort of secret code, so Christians can recognize each other across the lanes?
If you listen to some Christians whine and complain about how they’re persecuted, you’d have to believe this is their secret, vehicular handshake. These people actually think they’re persecuted. WTF? The United States of America is what, something like 90% Christian? They permeate every aspect of society and are represented overwhelmingly in all levels of our government. Christmas, the holiday many of them have taken to complaining is being phased out, effectively lasts for well over 10% of the year, the admonition to wait until after Thanksgiving before decorating notwithstanding.
I’ll tell you what I think it is. I think it’s the very thing Jesus was saying one shouldn’t do in the above quote found in Matthew. I think Jesus knew people whose faith was steadfast had no need to brandish it publicly, as though it were a badge of courage or strength. Indeed, I think those people who feel the necessity of advertising their religion are the least faithful of all.
I’m not exactly a religious scholar, but I think it was Paul of Tarsus who made proselytizing into a competitive sport. I don’t think Jesus would have approved. After all, he was Jewish and Judaism teaches that the most important thing one can do is live a “good” life, that is an ethical, righteous life. It is more important than liturgy or dogma and, therefore, it is one’s deeds, not one’s words by which we are judged. As a Jew, Jesus would not have found it necessary to convert people, or to preach to them. He was a teacher, not a preacher.
I think Paul felt guilty because he had persecuted and killed so many early Christians and, much like Charles Colson or numerous serial killers who, after lives of despicable and heinous acts, find and accept Jesus as their personal savior, he determined to make amends for the damage he had done. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing he repented; only that – like so many true believers – he swung that pendulum just as far in the other direction from where it had been and, therefore, avoided any kind of moderation in his pursuits.
In his book “The Wisdom of Insecurity”, Alan Watts discusses the difference between faith and belief. He posits that belief is rigid and unyielding, but faith is open and accepting. People who feel the need to wave their so-called religious convictions in our faces are believers. Faith is beyond their comprehension, because having faith requires an openness to things as they are, not as we wish them to be. These people, these cross-wavers – at least the worst of them – are certain they “know” exactly what truth is, and they are not shy in telling us where our faith leads if it isn’t in line with theirs.
I really don’t care what religion you are. I expect the same from you. Your religion, your belief, your faith are none of my damn business. However, the moment you start pushing your brand of soap as the only way to be clean, as the only way to live one’s life, as the only way to what you believe is the ultimate goal of our existence on this planet, then you’ve made your religion MY business. You open yourself up for criticism and you deserve every bit of scorn and anger dumped on your judgmental hide.
“No one here gets out alive.”
― Jim Morrison
We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.
At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.
In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.
This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.
Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.
Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.
I started blogging in July of 2004. My first blog was called “A muse me” and I was planning on using it to chronicle our adoption of Aimee, which had occurred in September of 2002. I wrote a few entries, then thought better of it, deciding it wasn’t for me to share the details of my daughter’s life when she had no say in it at all. At the time I just couldn’t figure out a way to share my feelings that made me feel comfortable I wasn’t invading her privacy. I ended up deleting those posts but the site remains as part of my Blogger account, which still exists.
On Thursday, February 23, 2006 I began writing again, posting to a blog I called “The Cranky Curmudgeon”, and I posted to that site on and off until 2014. Since I started this WordPress blog on January 7, 2008 there’s been some overlap, especially when I was using Amplify to post and share my content. So I have some content that’s on my curmudgeonly site and nowhere else and I have some that’s on both. What I propose to do is move the stuff that only exists there, and post it with a bit of explanation, if I feel it’s necessary.
I introduced “The Cranky Curmudgeon” with the following description:
Ever notice how many assholes there are in this world? I mean besides you? Chances are you’re a selfish jerk; there’s so damn many of them around wherever you go. OK. Maybe not you. After all, here you are reading my humble little mini-screeds. But, you have to admit, there are tons of ’em out there. Right? I just want to point ’em out and give ’em the verbal thrashing they deserve. I’ve pretty much given up on people becoming more thoughtful, so I figured I might as well just vent.
As you might be able to tell, I had a few “observations” I wished to make and had decided blogging would be a wonderful way to get them off my chest. In retrospect, I often wonder if I really cared that much or if I was misguided or, most likely, I’m just a garden variety asshole who doesn’t give people enough leeway and respect to be human. Regardless, the writings are mine and I’m pretty sure they were heartfelt and genuine when written. In fact, I’m pretty sure the majority of them still represent my feelings about life.
This first one came about because it really did happen often and what bothered me most was the continuous display of thoughtlessness and apparent total disregard for courtesy and decency, which is somewhat of a recurring theme from my curmudgeonly side. I have chosen not to edit these posts, though I may soon write a book which could include some parts that I will no doubt edit. Here’s numero uno.
Originally Posted 23 February 2006
Here’s one of my pet peeves though, truth to tell, I’ve got a lot of them. I’m no longer the pedal to the metal kind of driver I used to be. Sometimes I get back the urge and take advantage of the fact that the freeway I use to get to and from work generally travels (in the fast lane) at speed in excess of 80 mph. Most of the time, however, I like to hang back in the slow lane and just accept the fact I’ll be a minute or two later than if I jammed for the ten miles I need to get to my offramp.
So, here’s what really pisses me off. Why is it folks who have been content to drive along behind a truck for the last mile or so, suddenly decide to pull out in front of me, even though there is no one behind me and they have to know they’re going to cause me to slow down?
I don’t expect them to put together the fact that we’re going uphill and I don’t exactly have a muscle car, so they’re definitely impacting my world. But there’s nobody behind me! Why the fuck can’t they wait that extra moment for me to pass? This is especially egregious when I’m using my cruise control to conserve a little gas and make my drive even less stressful, because I then have to change lanes (if there’s nobody coming up on us), step on the brake, or hold the coast button down. Either way, it’s an unnecessary pain in the ass caused by a rude, thoughtless asshole who obviously was the only freaking person on the road.
I find a lot of people are incredibly thoughtless and inconsiderate; frequently rude, selfish, and amazingly unconcerned for the people they share the road (or the planet, for that matter) with. There are no laws against it, of course, though it seems all of our social and religious philosophies decry this kind of behavior. Yet the world is filled with pigs and dickheads. I don’t get it. Maybe I never will. I also don’t like it and I will never, ever get over it.
I’m going to try and figure out how to better understand why it’s so and how to counter it. I hope there are folks out there who can contribute to this effort. Regardless, I want to fight against, and marginalize this kind of behavior, especially when it comes from people who think they are thoughtful and respectful. I’m also going to point it out in every way I see it, whether it’s some jerk throwing trash out of his car, or a shopper leaving their cart in the middle of a parking space. More to come.
Had I been paying closer attention, I likely would have realized I sent this email the day before I sent the one I posted yesterday. Nevertheless, they are closely related in both time and content, so I want to share this one as well. I know I also have a file with the emails I sent from the sports bar in the China Hotel in Guangzhou, while we were there completing our adoption of Aimee and, eventually, I’ll post them here as well.
This particular email was in response to a post by another adoptive parent who, in seeking to understand adoption from her child’s POV, wrote “Maybe some of the referrals come with information that stretches the truth, but I think that the act of being placed in our loving arms is not quite as wonderful for these girls as it is for us. Give them time.” Here’s what I wrote:
This has to be one of the most important, and profound, statements I have read on China33* in some time. We must, repeat must, remember what these children have experienced. Each of them has had to suffer two major, life-changing upheavals. The first was being separated from their birth mother (no matter the circumstances under which it took place); the second being taken from either a foster family or the only real home they have known.
We have to control the tendency to see our good fortune in finding them as the only interpretation of these events. We must fight against trying to impose our perception of reality on them. I believe the wisest thing we can do is try and understand their lives from their perspective. They may not be able to give voice to it, and their memories are almost always pre-verbal, but that doesn’t negate the powerful emotions these events evoked.
I have watched our Aimee nearly shut down in situations that were similar to the evening she was placed in our arms. A room full of children, adults, noise, and pandemonium. Even an open house at pre-school has greatly unnerved her. However, with every day she has grown a little more secure in our existence as a family and now, at over four years old, she is finding her place and blossoming like we hoped for her.
The most important thing we can give our children is the knowledge not only that they are loved, but also that they are respected. I can’t emphasize this enough. Remember the concept of “walking a mile in their shoes”. By all means, revel in the joy of finally having her in your arms; the ineffable depth of emotion you feel when holding or even just watching her (or him). Just keep in mind that you are the lucky ones. If our children were truly lucky, the conditions leading to their abandonment would not have existed, and they would still be with their birth family.
Remember, one day they will be all grown up, and they will almost certainly be at least curious about why they were separated from their birth family. You will be doing both them and yourselves a great service by keeping that day in mind – always.
* China33 was the name of the Yahoo group we used to stay in touch during those times. When we adopted, the wait time was nearly two years and the time spent in China was three weeks. For some, the anxiety was overwhelming, though it was significant for even the most sanguine among us.
I became a first-time, adoptive father in August of 2002, when my wife and I traveled to the People’s Republic of China to meet our new daughter, Aimee. I have been loathe to write much about the experience as I didn’t feel it was my place to wave her life, and the circumstances (as I knew them) of our adoption, in public. I did, however, spend the first few years communicating a great deal with other parents of internationally, and transracially, adopted children. I’ve decided now is the time to start sharing my thoughts and recollections. This is an email, dated October 13, 2005, I sent to a Yahoo group used by most everyone who used the facilitator we did – U.S. Asian Affairs – to help us with all the issues our adoption from the PRC required addressing. Most of the people who adopted Chinese children are white, and the issue of racism was even more difficult for many to discuss back then than it is now. Anyway, here’s what I wrote in response to a statement by a fellow AP (adoptive parent):
As my father used to say, “you hit the head right on the nail”. While abandonment issues are the most obvious, they exist because of something that happened at a time certain. That isn’t to say they don’t continue to affect our kids in numerous ways as they grow; just that the fact of abandonment is something that happened in the past and must be dealt with in that context.
Race, on the other hand is (unfortunately) an issue our children will almost certainly continue to deal with all their lives. How we approach it is of paramount importance in how they will cope with it. My research tells me (as do my gut instincts) that parents who choose to believe they can ignore it, or that it really isn’t a major issue, are setting themselves and, tragically, their children up for some major problems.
Once again, I urge all adoptive parents and all prospective adoptive parents, especially families where both members are Caucasian, to learn as much as you can about the realities of racism. I am talking here not merely about the most obvious aspects (such as outright bigotry) but also about the institutionalized and insidious aspects of racism. Those of you who have not given it much thought (this is not an indictment, merely a recognition of reality) will be shocked at some of the things you learn.
Additionally, I can’t stress enough how important it will be to let your children lead the way with respect to their lives. I believe love consists of two major components; affection and respect. I know you will show great affection for your child. It’s important as well that you show them deep respect and you can do this by learning how to listen to them. Children should not be seen and never heard. They should be heard first and foremost. Trust them; listen to them; make sure they will always talk to you and you will become their allies in a battle they will have no choice but to fight.
Know also that you are not in this alone. There are numerous resources out there for you to learn or gain strength from. We should all be thankful for Rick, Karin, and all the folks who contribute to the discussions here on China33. Traveling to China to receive your child is just the beginning of a lifelong journey and you have the opportunity to take it with a large, supportive community. Take advantage of it. Your kids will thank you.
As a noun, Merriam-Webster defines eclectic as “one who uses a method or approach that is composed of elements drawn from various sources.” I think this describes me pretty well. So well, in fact, I once printed up business cards introducing me (see the title of this post) as Richard Ladd – Professional Eclectic, SMSD. I used different fonts for each letter of the title, chosen to stress their difference yet not such that they appeared garish or disjointed. At least, that was my intent. I have no idea if I succeeded because I never really passed any of them out. It was a silly conceit of mine.
I added the SMSD embellishment very purposefully. Although I have two advanced degrees I’m reasonably proud of having earned, I seldom place their initials after my name. However, I intended the business card to be somewhat of a joke and, coupled with some minor discomfort in holding myself out as being a true eclectic, I thought to broaden it and thereby soften the harshness of what I worried might be too heady a self-endorsement. One could easily imply calling oneself an eclectic might be a backhanded way of suggesting one was a polymath.
Merriam-Webster defines dilettante as “a person whose interest in an art or in an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious.” Although I have long had a keen interest in many different fields of study, I am not sure that interest is deep enough for me to really be a person with eclectic interests or tastes, not necessarily a true eclectic. SMSD, therefore, stands for “Some May Say Dilettante.” I considered it a sort of backhanded disclaimer, a way of acknowledging I just might not be very good at my eclecticism.
What caused me to think of this? I was looking at my desk, which I had actually cleaned off not too long ago. It is once again cluttered, as it almost always is. It reminded me that I’ve always been interested in many things and easily distracted as well, and it finally hit me that I will likely never be “organized”.
It’s not limited to what I read and study either. When I was living in Playa del Rey and my family’s business was in Vernon (East L.A.) I often tried different routes to go back and forth. I get bored really easy with doing the same thing the same way, over and over. When I worked at Rocketdyne for over two decades, I often drove different routes to get to work and, even more importantly, I often tried new ways of doing things; always looking for a better way to get my work done.
I once worked with a guy who insisted he was far too busy to take time to learn something new. It was his goto response when I suggested he take 10 – 15 minutes to learn a couple of keyboard shortcuts or learn about a macro command that would save time in the future. I’m always amazed by people who have no curiosity and see learning as a chore or something that impedes their ability to get their work done. That attitude is the epitome of the saying “pennywise and pound foolish”, IMO. It’s also the antithesis of being able to see systems or what is frequently referred to as Systems Thinking.
Hmmm. It seems my propensity for wandering has happened with this post as well. I think my main point was a recognition that one needn’t be “organized” or to see it as the be all and end all of being an effective person. Some of us just aren’t built that way, yet we manage to do quite well overall. Yeah. That’s the ticket.