Sunday, August 31, 2014

Am I Part of the Problem?

Cognitive dissonance: when you expect music but all you hear is noise  

I look at the world and I shake my head in confusion. I should be living the dream. Instead, my life often feels more like a nightmare. There are glorious aspects for which I am profoundly grateful, but the context around the golden nuggets seems increasingly disconnected and bizarre. Or was August 2014 just a particularly horrific month?

Just this past month alone:
  • ISIL is threatening. Video footage of a journalist’s brutal execution circulated through social media networks. The United States authorized airstrikes in Iraq. Approximately a dozen American citizens (read: US passport holders) have taken up arms in support of ISIS, ISIL, or whatever they are calling themselves this week. After our huge investment in Iraq, why have we been unable to promote stable societies in the region?
  • Russia is looming. War raged between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies fomenting this or supplying the separatists or supporting them with troops, weapons, and equipment. Yet Russian troops, weapons, and equipment are clearly involved. Putin says that maybe some troops are using their military leave to vacation in Ukraine, and what is he supposed to do, pull their passes? After our Cold War victory and NATO expansion, why have we been unable to contain Russia?
  • The Levant is boiling. The death toll in Gaza escalated. The US has negotiated with Hamas, giving them the legitimacy they desire. The US has simultaneously backed an increasingly aggressive Israeli regime. Combined with our failure to contain ISIL, our schizoid foreign policy is paving the way for Armageddon. With all the bright minds at our disposal, why were we not able to see this coming?
  • Diseases are raging. About 1,500 people died in one of the largest Ebola outbreaks in history. Even supposedly cured diseases are coming back. Polio is back and on the rise, mostly because some parents refuse the vaccine. What!? My own brother is in the fight of his life, battling Glioblastoma Multiforme Grade 4. This same drama is playing out for many, many families who love someone fighting a horrible, incurable disease. We are all pleading for more time as the doctors, doing all they can, are scrambling to find a cure. Why have we been unable to eradicate disease?  
  • Ferguson is burning. A policeman fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year old Michael Brown, and left his body in the street for 4 hours. The incident incited protests and more violence. White people tend to point our that at 18, Michael Brown was an adult, not a boy, and he should not have been involved in a robbery, and he should not have pushed the Police officer before making a move to swipe the officer's side-arm. In other words, he was a punk who had it coming. And black people view the incident itself and the militarization of the Police force as proof of institutionalized oppression. Why have we been unable to build stable communities
  • Heroes are dying. Robin Williams, who usually makes us laugh, succumbed to his personal demons and took his own life this month. Whether Robin Williams was a hero or not is debatable, but he was certainly popular. What about the relatively unknown soldier who cannot find a way to cope with war's aftermath? One hears the term "Hero" bandied about so often that it may be over-used, but the young men and women who answer the Nation's call to duty qualify in my book. Suicides among our warriors are surging, averaging nearly one a day this year – the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war. Why are too many people feeling that the only answer to their problems is to end their own lives
  • Reporters are lying.  A psychologist claims that 10% of men are rapists, and NPR broadcasts and publishes this as if it were proven fact. Really? A democracy depends on an objective media reporting the truth in a clear manner. We do not need editorial slant on the front page. We are all entitled to our opinions, but we don't need someone else's opinions or biases passed off as objective fact. What happens to a society dedicated to democratic ideals when the Fourth Estate touches the Third Rail

How did this cauldron of greed, hatred, and injustice become the world in which I am raising my children? How could I be so wrong about so many things? Is my way of thinking outmoded? Am I actually part of the problem?

Nicholas Kristof thinks so, at least on the Ferguson issue, He says the race issue deserves more attention, not less. He says that racism caused the militarization of the Police force in Ferguson. He says that racism, not thuggery, caused the inevitable death of Mr. Brown. And in Part 2 of his New York Times OpEd, Kristof again shared the view that I am part of the problem when he wrote that whites just don't get it. My opinion is probably not going to be published in the New York Times, but in my opinion, we should look at behavior, not race. In my opinion, looking at race is the very definition of racism.

The iconic towers of the World Trade Center before 9/11

To me, the turning point in the World as We Know It was 9/11. The unpopular (but in my opinion, justified and necessary) wars that followed under the Bush Administration paved the way for the election of 2008. Americans elected Barrack Obama in part because the American people got tired of fighting to preserve stability in the Middle East. The problem is not Obama, the Man. The problem is America, the Sheeple. We elected an idealistic orator over a crotchety curmudgeon in 2008, and again over a smarmy oligarch in 2012. For better or for worse, in a democracy we get exactly what we deserve.

So let's look at what kind of world we have crafted for our children. Iraq is crumbling from within, not just because the Coalition departed, but our departure (abdication?) certainly emboldened and enabled the broader, Anti-West agenda, to wit:

  • Russia is cackling with glee. It has (a) Europe in a headlock over energy, (b) the bulk of Asia as military customers, and (c) a feckless America at arm's length; 
  • ISIS is literally erasing the borders between Syria and Iraq, as in, cutting the berms with dozers. 
  • Though the Sunni-Shia divide is sharp, ISIS wants to re-establish the Islamic dominance in the Middle Eastern region first, then settle the leadership issue under the restored Caliphate 
  • The Russian-backed Syrian president has just been re-elected, despite (or because of?) dropping barrel bombs on dissenters 
  • Iran is happy to push Shi'a Islam westward, through Baghdad and toward Israel. Soon they will be within striking distance of Jerusalem with Russian-made weapons; 
  • The Kurds are happy, since they have set their sites on swiping Diyarbakir from Turkey and creating the country of Kurdistan. And really, who will stop them? Iraq? Turkey alone? Turkey with NATO? Russia and China patiently await NATO's demise. They will watch and secretly help NATO sink into oblivion. 
  • By negotiating with Hamas, even "unofficially," the Obama administration is giving them all the legitimacy they need; 
  • China is not Anti-West in the same sense as the Russians and most of the Muslim world. China would rather ally with Asia than with America, it's as simple as that. 

If I have been part of the problem, let me be part of the solution going forward. Or, if the solution is unacceptable capitulation, then let me continue to be part of the problem until balance and stability is restored. Here is my wish-list:

  • I want Russia neutered. Not physically, but politically, diplomatically, and--if necessary--militarily. (And maybe physically.) The Russia-Syria-Iran-China alliance is deeply troubling, especially when added to the ongoing unrest in Israel and surrounds. How much more of a threat does Russia need to be before we do something?
  • I want Israel to exist. Preferably peacefully, and preferably as a state on land promised to her in the Bible. Granted, the Torah says that the Jews are to live in permanent diaspora as punishment, and the Koran is even less kind to God's Chosen People. But I do not advocate wiping Israel off the map. Further, I support resisting any attempt to do so. That said, I don't want Israel to have carte blanche to do whatever she pleases with our unblinking backing.
  • I want ISIL crushed. Too few people in this country worry about whether their children will have grandchildren before Armageddon. Really, is pushing off Armageddon for a couple more generations too much to ask? Can we put down our wide-screen TV remotes and think past Tuesday?
  • I want a cure for disease. Especially cancer and Ebola. And I want it by Tuesday. My brother needs a cure now and there are many others in a similar fight. On that note, I also want to live in society where people respect science and take the vaccine rather than risk infecting the rest of us. Speaking of society,  
  • I want social justice. I want respect and rewards for people who do good, and fair punishment for people who break law--regardless of age, race, gender, or economic standing. This means that I want a Major General killed in combat to be revered while a thug who gets himself killed trying to take a cop's side-arm to be quickly forgotten, not the reverse. And 
  • I want the truth. Yes, I want it, and yes, I can handle it. I want people to expect--no, demand--the objective truth all of our institutions, to include the media. Wait, especially the media. If the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Branches all screw it up, we can still get by if the Fourth Estate holds to the Truth. But if the media fails, too, we are well and truly screwed.

Is that to much to ask? Am I so wrong to ask for these things?

"Bring home the troops!" Polls are running this country, not leaders. Where are the leaders like the Churchill and Roosevelt who articulated a compelling, unifying vision, and only then listened to advisers and even the public opinion polls? In this country, the selfish tail is wagging the stupid dog. And Putin is playing fetch with bigger and bigger sticks (Crimea, Ukraine, former Eastern Block countries who joined NATO...).

Am I right? Or am I part of the problem? Or perhaps I am just ranting again...

Friday, August 29, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Recently, I wrote about five related words describing human existence: alive, conscious, sentient, sapient, and awake. As a result, I offered the following functional definitions of these five words. The definitions are repeated here with light editing as indicated:

  • alive: having a heartbeat and emitting brainwaves, i.e., neither dead nor unfeeling. In human existence, there are degrees of aliveness ranging from barely to fully alive. Aliveness is manifest in the physical world, in the body. 
  • conscious: aware of one's surroundings; responsive, i.e., neither asleep nor comatose. In human existence, there are degrees of consciousness ranging from barely to fully conscious. Consciousness is manifest in the physical and mental world, in the body and all the sensory organs, especially in the brain. 
  • sentient: alert; having the power of perception by the senses; aware of one's place in the Universe, i.e., neither lost nor confused. In human existence, there are degrees of sentience ranging from barely to fully sentient. Sentience is manifest in the physical, material, and cosmic domains, and as a construct in the brain of the observer. Sentience requires an awareness of self that is not required in previous states, i.e., one may be conscious yet not self-aware. 
  • sapient: having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment; i.e., neither ignorant nor incompetent. the actions of the hands align with the plans of the head and the values of the heart. Sapience manifests in the social world. Sapience, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. External observation validates one's degree of sapience. 
  • awake: a fully functioning body, mind, and spirit; clear; at One with the Universe, i.e., neither conflicted nor distracted. In human existence, there are degrees of awakeness ranging from barely to fully awake. Full awakeness requires no external validation--it simply "is." Awakeness is manifest in the metaphysical world, when hands, heads, and hearts align in harmony. 
Are you awake?

Now let's really have some fun and use these definitions to dig a little deeper. Can we use our five-term lexicon describing levels of human existence to compare and contrast mankind with other forms of life--five entities in existence, if you will? Let's make the comparison with humans and other animals, other forms of life such as plants, and with entities that stretch our imaginations a bit, such as robots, and even rocks.

Man--in particular, an armed man in provocative tribal war paint
  • Mankind. All people may be created of equal value, but we are not all equally "-abled" or gifted. Some of us are born faster, stronger, or smarter than others. Opportunities are not evenly distributed. In addition to genetic variety, luck or chance also plays a role.
    • People experience the 5 terms on a sliding scale from low to high. Why is that? Why are we not all perceiving the same things? Are these variations in how and what we perceive part of what defines humanity?
    • We have different skills, knowledge, abilities and other traits that have been developed by education and experiences gathered from birth over time. In addition to what nature imbues, the experiences of nurture also shape our outcomes--and those of our fellow humans.
    • All other things being equal, we achieve varying degrees of  happiness and success in life. Why is that? In addition to our "born-in" attributes and all of our deliberate developmental choices, individuals are also subject to life-altering randomness.  
The within-species variation is great. For the sake of our comparison of various entities using the 5-term lexicon, we'll compare the theoretically "typical" human against the typical examples of the other entities. 
Monkey appears to be lost in thought

  • Monkey. The animal kingdom contains many species besides homo sapiens. Bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans share about 99% of the human genome, making these primates our closest human relatives. Just as with humans, there is much within-species variation between individual primates. The variation occurs in appearance, aptitudes, and behaviors. Monkeys are primates, but unlike apes they have tails and tend to look and act more like four-legged creatures. For this study we'll think about our more distant relative, the monkey. Mmmmm, I think I see a pattern developing here...
Marigold, could have been any plant, but this one fits the alliteration scheme

  • Marigold. Biology--the study of life--includes two main subsets: fauna, represented by the human and the chimpanzee discussed above, and flora--the plant kingdom. Though we don't typically think of plants as thinking or feeling, we do know that they have common biological functions such as ingestion, respiration, digestion, excretion, and reproduction, and that these functions occur over a life-cycle. Naturally, plants recognize and respond to sunlight, as well as the absence of the sun's life-giving rays. There have also been studies that suggest plants respond to music, and even to positive or negative emotional energy. 
Machine, in particular, the spectacular Large Hadron Collider

  • Machine. A machine is a tool containing one or more parts that uses energy to perform an intended action. People are tool-makers and have made machines since pre-historic times. As machines get more complex, do they reveal human creativity, or is it the other way around? That is, is there a Master Machine who reveals itself through the successive approximation techniques of its human drones?     
    • Simple machines include Inclined plane, Wheel and axle, Lever, Pulley, Wedge, Screw
    • Machines have grown in complexity from the first flint hand-ax to the Large Hadron Collider
    • Computers have led to robots which in turn have yielded androids. 
    • Computers play chess with human Chess Masters and play Jeopardy against champion human Jeopardy contestants. 
    • With increasing amounts of "intelligence" coming from non-biological sources, the Singularity seems to be drawing near. How soon will we have computers which can pass the Turing Test? Futurist Ray Kurzweil estimates that the Singularity will happen in the year 2045.
Meteorite: Compressed Stardust

  • Meteorite. What is a rock? When is a rock more than it seems? Why do we laugh at the phrase, "Dumber than a box of rocks"? We have descended to the lower end of the intelligence scale and we are now discussing mineral clusters, aka rocks. 
    • The Earth spins on its axis and revolves around the sun. The molten core of the Earth swallows up the edges of tectonic plates and spews the excess out through volcanoes along a "ring of fire." We are riding on a rock surfboard skimming across a burning lake of molten iron.
"The surface of the Sun is hot – over 5500 degrees Celsius (which is nearly 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit). But if new findings are correct, then the center of our own planet may actually be hotter – over 1,000 degrees hotter than previously thought." --Forbes 

      • We think that our life on the surface of Earth is pretty stable but things look much different from the perspective of geological time.Continents drift. Mountains are formed, and mountains erode. Minerals circulate from the center to the surface and back again. But did you know that out of 4,000 minerals known to exist on planet Earth, a great number and a significant quantity have been transported here from outer space? 
    "...[C]oncentrations of precious metals such as platinum and rhodium in the rock portion of the Earth today...could not have ended up there by any known internal process, and instead must have been added back, likely by a 'rain' of extraterrestrial debris, such as comets and meteorites."-- Science Daily


    We have used our five-term lexicon describing levels of human existence to compare and contrast mankind with other forms of life--five entities in existence. We compared humans and other animals, other forms of life such as plants, and with entities that stretch our imaginations a bit, such as robots, and even rocks.The table below is a matrix of the entities in what are assumed to be descending order from top to bottom, and the terms in what are assumed to be increasing order from left to right. Imagine the path from lower left to upper right. Buddha's body was composed of stardust--as is yours!

    Table 1. Matrix of Entities and States

    The bottom line:

    • As a human, I can recognize other humans and distinguish humans from other non-human entities in my environment. What makes me human is the same stuff that allows me to make this basic distinction. But when I try to define that "stuff," I find that the distinctions are not nearly as obvious as I had thought.
    • I certainly believe that all other mammals can do the same basic sorting. For example, fish give sharks wide berth, and lions recognize and occasionally obey their human trainers. 
    • I assume also that plants have some awareness about themselves in relation to their environment. This awareness is manifest in the Venus Fly Trap, but is less evident (to me) in other plants who lack the ability to move. Yet a plant can distinguish sunlight from darkness, and grow toward the light. A carrot can sense the coming freeze, and pull all its sweet nutrients to its core in an attempt to survive.
    • We have created machines capable of sensing and responding to environmental cues. 
    • When one considers rocks and minerals one must consider
      • the Big Bang distributed all known material and non-material elements into the void of space
      • so many of the minerals we have on our little planet have been deposited here from external sources
      • the Earth's volcanic activity continues to churn, producing new surface material and consuming material pulled in to the center from the edges of tectonic plates. 
      • Tall, jagged mountains wear down to older, rounded ones, and trees somehow grow in the cracks.
    The seed from a tree found enough food and water in this crevice to survive.

    According to Arthur Koestler, the Universe is composed of fixed rules and flexible strategies. All things are simultaneously whole and part of something else. His so-called holarchy applies to inanimate objects, too, and objects that are created by people or by natural processes. For example, a piece of music that resonates with the human ear is an expression of fixed rules of tone, rhythm, and harmony. Despite fixed rules "governing" music, there exists a near infinite variety of potential original musical compositions. Who am I to deny that the mineral components of a mountain do not yearn to be absorbed, transformed, and ultimately united with the Divine?

    In the next installment of What Does It Mean to Be Human, we'll delve into the difference between a brain and a mind. Stay well, and stay tuned!

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Elvis Costello, 60 anni di rock: "Le trappole da evitare? Andare indietro nel tempo" da (and PhilosFX!)

    My third and final repost in honor of Elvis Costello's 60th birthday is this article by PAOLO RUSSO and published in La Repubblica.

    Elvis Costello, 60 anni di rock: "Le trappole da evitare? Andare indietro nel tempo" - Musica - Spettacoli -

    Buon compleanno, Signore Costello

    A Happy 60th To Elvis Costello from Londonist (and PhilosFX!)

    Here is a fine article by  of the Londonist, featuring five favorite moments brought to us by birthday boy, Elvis Costello.

    A Happy 60th To Elvis Costello | Londonist:

    Happy 60th birthday Elvis Costello from the Liverpool Echo (and PhilosFX!)

    Today is Elvis Costello's 60th birthday. Here is a link to a retrospective written by Josh Parry and published in the Liverpool Echo. The post includes a countdown of the paper's 10 favorite Costello songs, complete with video performances.


    Happy 60th birthday Elvis Costello - here are 10 of his greatest songs - Liverpool Echo:

    GeT hApPy!! 60tH bIrThDaY, eLvIs CoStElLo

    Today is the 60th birthday of my musical idol, the incredible Elvis Costello.

    I discovered Mr Costello's music when my hometown friend, aka Jhymnal, played Pump It Up by EC and the Attractions in a mixed-tape. It was the summer of 1979, before my freshman year of college. Immediately, I was smitten by the witty, sometimes cutting lyrics, the frenetic pace, and the musical hooks. While away at University, I pursued my interest in all things Elvis, grabbing Get Happy (European title: Emotional Fascism) on the first day of release (Feb 1980) and snapping up vinyl copies of the back-catalog at the campus music store.

    Over time, I have been to several concerts and events, seen the movies, read the books, and purchased more vinyl and CDs. As I write, I am listing to a shuffled mix featuring 60-second snippets of songs from the man's vast collection. I know of no artist who has been more prolific, nor more diverse. Elvis has written for every genre, for every era, across generations and styles. Country, Punk, Rock, Classical, Blues, Folk, you name it.

    For those of you who share my interest in Elvis Costello's work, I proudly present a series of backlinks and reposts for your pleasure. The baker's dozen backlinks are links to previous EC-related posts published here in PhilosFX. The reposts are links to articles posted today (Aug 25, 2014) by other sources around the world.

    Happy birthday, Declan Patrick MacManus, better known as Elvis Costello. May you live long and prosper!

    A baker's dozen back links

    Three reposts: Liverpool, London, and beyond


    Friday, August 22, 2014

    Sunrise aboard the Green Turtle Floating B&B

    Today I would like to share some time lapse photos of a recent sunrise. These photos were taken aboard the Andante, aka Green Turtle 3, a floating Bed and Breakfast in the Boston Harbor.  

    The photos are the story but I will attempt to set the stage for you. Imagine, if you will...

    The planes stopped taking off and landing at nearby Logan by around 2:30 am and all was perfectly still. At about 3:30 am, the fishermen began loading their boats for the day's work, or firing up dinghies to make their way to bigger vessels moored further out from our pier. By 4:30, it was still again.

    The 5:30 alarm sounded. We trundled up to the bridge with blankets and a pot of coffee. In fact, the enclosed bridge was a little too confined in the sense that we felt we were "indoors." So we moved back down to the cockpit.

    Sunrise was expected at 5:38, and the sky gradually brightened as expected. But ol' Sol took his sweet time moseying over the tree tops. Next time you think that time flies too quickly, try waiting for the exact moment when the sun breaks into view.

    If you are into classical music, or if you speak Italian you may know that "andante" refers to a moderately slow and even tempo, usually considered to be slower than allegretto but faster than adagio. Let's call it a nice walking pace. Our yacht, the Andante, is not going to win any America's Cup races, but she is comfortable, and perfect for an early morning stroll with the sun.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    My Fascination With Flags

    I reckon most bloggers write primarily for intrinsic rewards: it feels good to write, and the satisfaction of writing is its own rich reward. Some bloggers garner tons of followers and maybe even make a living at blogging, but I'd venture to guess that most of us are satisfied with the simple pleasure of contributing content to the stream of human consciousness. 

    That said, a little feedback or interaction never hurt anyone--in fact, it's like icing on the cake. 

    So although I say I write for the joy of writing, I admit that I am thrilled to know that people all around the globe have stopped by for the unique blend of Philosophy and Special Effects we call PhilosFX. I love travel, geography, and culture--so naturally, I love the way flags represent distinct countries around the world. Flags are fascinating! 

    Thanks to my Flag Counter application, we have the following statistics regarding PhilosFX visitors:
    • People from 187 of 242 countries have visited, including countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.  
    • We've collected 250 different flags, including those from the states, provinces, and territories of the United States and Canada.
    • There are 55 countries whose citizens have yet to visit PhilosFX, including some I'd have trouble locating on a globe, such as Kiribati, Niue, and Svalbard. Others, such as North Korea, lack sufficient Internet access.
    • Some 47 countries have a single visitor representing them. These are often small or remote countries with little Internet footprint. The most recent of these counties were Malawi, Nauru, and Mayotte.

    The global dispersion of flag markers is illustrated in the screen capture figures shown below.

    Mercator Projection map of the world showing 187 flags, one for each country with one or more visitors to PhilosFX

    Close-up of flags in European and the Middle Eastern countries

    Close-up of  Flags in several Central America and Caribbean countries.

    Why does this matter? Where are we going? Here are some flag-related goals for PhilosFX
    • Of course I would like people from all 242 countries of the world to visit and enjoy PhilosFX. I want the list of "never" countries to shrink to zero from 55. This is a measure of the breadth of the site's reach.
    • My counter shows the 48 countries with the most visits. As a measure of the site's depth, I'd like to see the 48th ranked country garner even more unique visits. We are currently at 27 and rising!
    • My home country of the USA accounts for 63% of the 30,000 unique (non-repeat) visits. I want to sustain the trend that over a third of all unique visitors are from foreign countries around the world. This reflects the site's global appeal. 
    • All visitors from all countries are most welcome here! Visit, read, comment, and--if you like what you see--share. This most important measure reflects the quality and impact of the site's content.
    BOTTOM LINE: PhilosFX has enjoyed about 134,000 visits total, about 30,000 of whom were unique visitors. That means that about 104,000 people have visited this site more than once. While I am fascinated with flags, I am particularly grateful for the global networked community of people who create and consume blog content.

    Thanks for stopping by!


    Facts or Retraction, Please! Shame on NPR for its Shoddy and Biased Journalism!

    My anti-rape stance is well documented in the pages of PhilosFX. It's also known that I have two daughters, one of whom is in college. Thus it should come as no surprise to readers that I would choose to listen closely to the following story about preventing campus rape.

    Graphic by Maria Fabrizio for NPR

    The Power Of The Peer Group In Preventing Campus Rape

    However, what might come as a surprise to some readers--it certainly surprised me!--is my reaction to the following quote from within the cited story, which aired on my local NPR station, WAMU (emphasis added).

    "John Foubert, the psychologist in Oklahoma, says it's important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape. The key is opening their eyes to what's going on with the other 10 percent, so they can see it and intervene."

    My jaw hit the floor.... Did NPR's reporter just repeat--as if it were a documented fact--that 10% of all men are rapists?

    Rape is a horrible crime. I would not put slander and libel in the same category, but those deliberate misrepresentations of fact are also crimes. What truly offends me, though, is the obvious bias in what should be a bias-free report. The assertion that 10% of all men are rapists fuels an agenda, namely, that men are pigs.

    I could not believe my ears, so I searched the Internet for some external validation of my shock and disbelief. I found some confirmation of my observation in the similar reaction of an anonymous writer posting under the name "xPraetorius" at
    "They [NPR] report on “rape on college campuses.” Again, it’s a report that throws out there as “fact” or as “news” highly suspect conclusions. NPR’s definition of “rape” is probably something like: “Any time a woman says it’s rape.” Including, by the way, all those times where she said it was rape, but was simply ashamed of her own behavior the next day.
    "If a woman doesn't consent to sexual relations and a man forces himself on her, that’s rape.
    "If a woman goes to a college frat party where they are serving alcohol, and does everything under the sun to make it seem that she’s available, then has a tryst and is ashamed the next day, that is not rape. 
    "The way NPR reported this “story,” incoming freshmen girls in college are nothing more than empty-headed, naïve little does, out there for the plucking by the roving bands of predatory wolves in frat-boy’s clothing.
    "Uhhhhhhhh… no." 
    And then we get the line that stuck in my brain--and obviously in xP's as well--to wit: "it's important to remember that 90 percent of men have never committed a rape."
    "Wait. Whuh? Was that supposed to be reassuring?!? Was that supposed to make us all say to ourselves, “Whew! We thought all men were nothing more than slavering, drooling, leering, rapists! What a relief that it’s only 10% of ‘em! The real truth: 99.99% of all men never commit rape." 
    Now I do not know where xPraetorius gets his facts, either, and he offers no citations. I doubt the voracity of his 99.99% claim. My gut tells me that the truth lies between the extremes, that is, somewhere between 0.01% and 10% of all men have committed at least one rape. The fact that many rapists are serial rapists helps account for the high number of rapes, both reported and unreported. Again I have seen credible and disturbing estimates for the occurrence of rape. I am not disputing the fact that rape is a problem. I am disputing the unfounded and unhelpful assertion that one in 10 men are taking part in what could be described as a rape fest.

    Perhaps the so-called Praetori are exaggerating to minimize the issue, and if so, that is wrong. However, the Praetori are not NPR. They are not claiming to be objective, merely thought-provoking. And they are taking no public funds for their efforts. I hold NPR to a much higher standard when it comes to fact-checking and objective, bias-free reporting. 

    Rape is wrong, full stop. The weapon against evil is the Truth, not bias, hyperbole, fiction, or libel. Therefore, I call upon NPR to either provide the facts to back up the 10% claim, or publish a retraction of the bogus claim made in their story.

    Come on, NPR! You are better than this!

    I only wish Laura Starecheski or her editor at NPR would have invested a few minutes to check a fact or two before publishing such an onerous and erroneous statistic. I admit, the stats are hard to come by, but that does not justify settling for inflammatory conjecture! 

    I joined and followed the William & Mary-trained psychologist, John Foubert, the author of the 90% line. I scanned some of his papers but have not yet found the source of his 10% statistic. But it ought to be his job to produce the evidence, not mine! 

    I commented on NPR's post and again on a glowing review of Starecheski's story published in The Oregonian. No responses yet. Why not? 

    I searched Laura Starecheski and found many images of her similar to the one shown below. I realize that I may be guilty of Lookism, but I confess that I had some very judging thoughts about her apparent agenda based only on her appearance in published photos. However, combined with this sample of her writing, I think it's credible that she is a man-hater with gender identity issues. And what does her performance say about the editorial stance at NPR on this issue? 

    Come on, NPR! 
    You are better than this, 
    aren't you?

    Full disclosure: 

    • I am a proud sustaining member of my local NPR station, and as such I have a right to insist on quality journalism.
    • I do not endorse everything in the xPraetorius post, but I will say that the stunned disbelief he described matched my own feeling. Read the whole post here:

    Sunday, August 17, 2014

    The Finish Line? Reflections from the Scene of the Boston Marathon Bombing

    Tax Dash

    When you hear "April 15th"in the USA, your first thought is probably: ugh, Tax Day. In 2013, this annual "Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appreciation Day" happened to land on the third Monday of April, which in New England is also known as Patriots' Day in honor of the Battles at Lexington and Concorde.

    Patriots' Day in New England should not be confused with the National Patriot Day commemoration held annually on 9/11. The more recent Patriot Day (9/11) marks another moment that changed the arc of history. But that has been, is, and will be a story for a different blog post....

    As it happened in 2013, this auspicious mid-April day was also the day for the running of the now infamous 116th annual Boston Marathon--the one that was marred by an inhuman tragedy.

    "At 2:49 pm EDT, two pressure cooker bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon about 12 seconds and 210 yards apart, near the finish line on Boylston Street. Three people were killed and an estimated 264 other runners and onlookers were injured. 
    "The bombing victims were identified as 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, 8-year-old Martin Richard, and 23-year-old Lu Lingzi. Additionally at approximately 10:30 pm on April 18, MIT officer Sean Collier was killed in a related incident, for a total of four fatalities." 
    --various Internet resources including Wikipedia

    Recently, I made a pilgrimage to the scene of the carnage, and this is my report in words and pictures.

    Make-shift memorial honors Sean, Krystle, Lu Lingzi, and Martin. 
    The new addition to the Boston Library appears in the background.

    The Finish Line? 
    Reflections from the Scene of the Boston Marathon Bombing

    When news of the bombing hit the airwaves, my reaction was intense.

    • I wanted the perpetrators caught and harshly punished to dissuade copycats. Medieval torture techniques such as the withdrawal of entrails or boiling in oil seemed perfectly appropriate.
    • I wanted the victims and first responders honored and healed, no expenses spared. 
    • I wanted the families and friends of the dead and injured consoled through the application of healing care, swift justice, and fair compensation. 
    • And, more than anything else, I wanted to promote a National sense of unity--through defiance. Defiance in the form of a giant bony finger thrust in the chest of every would-be terrorist. Defiance that states clearly and unambiguously, "this shall not stand!"

    The best way to express unity through defiance, I argued, would be for Boston to come back stronger than ever for the 2014 race, and beyond that, for every able-bodied American to get out and run. I wanted the 2014 Boston Marathon to be the biggest and the best ever. Moreover, I wanted to flood the streets of every town in the Nation with pissed-off runners--not afraid, not really angry, but determined and defiant.

    Run for personal health and fitness. 
    Run for those who are not able. 
    Run to honor those who fell. 
    Run to teach the terrorists 
    that they cannot prevail. 
    Run to conquer fear. 
    Run with purpose. 
    Run for America.
    Run, Forrest
    R-u-n !

    In May, I signed up for my first-ever marathon, and, with the help of Team in Training I did something I now consider quite remarkable: a mere 6 months after the Boston Marathon Bombing, I crossed the start line of the Marine Corps Marathon.

    A view of the Finish Line with the library in the background
    Yes, a few hours later I also crossed the finish line, but to my way of thinking, I became a marathoner when, after months of training and preparation, I actually planted my personal footprint on the race course. Not everyone finishes every race  (lots of things can go wrong), but everyone who starts a 40 km race is a marathoner. Even if I failed in my attempt to complete the marathon, I knew that the act of starting the race validated the commitment I made.

    Interesting word cloud map of Boston found in the Boston Library
    Would I finish? Would I finish pain-free? Would I finish pain-free and immediately sign up for another marathon? What about all the people who had generously pledged support to LLS on my behalf? How could I ever face them again if I failed? Those questions were eating away at me during my training. I had serious doubts all the way up to the pre-race dinner.  I was thinking about me, about my trials and my concerns. Worry consumed me.

    A mix of architectural styles along the marathon route

    At the pre-race dinner, I had an epiphany. The speaker talked about all the money we raised for LLS, and how that money was going directly to cancer research and care for cancer patients and their families.  This realization took me out of myself, out of "me" world and into "we" world.

    Then an experienced marathoner addressed the first-timers. And I was not alone, not by a long shot. There were several hundred of first-time marathoners in the MCM, and dozens in the banquet hall  that night. This speaker said that we could let go of our pre-race anxiety because all we had to do was show up for the starting gun and put a footprint on the race track and we'd be marathoners.

    Just hours before the race, I realized that all those questions which had plagued me were immaterial. I was not running for me. I was running for them. The starting gun sounded. I was on the course. One foot was steadily going in front of the other. Nothing else mattered. I was in a sea of runners, ans we had made it!

    As I floated, plodded, and waddled my way over 26.2 miles, I thought about the shock and horror experienced at 2:49 EDT on Boylston Street six months earlier. I thought of all the people who had supported me and Team in Training to raise needed funds for cancer research. And mostly I thought about my brother, fighting cancer, to whom I had dedicated my run. I often chanted his name in rhythm with my footfalls. These thoughts of others kept me in the "we" world, and helped me ignore any discomfort.

    At the Finish Line, where--for me--it all began.


    • I felt so happy and so relieved when I charged up the hill to the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. 
    • In December, I re-lived that sense of hard-fought victory when my brother survived his second cancer surgery. 
    • And then in April, I was overjoyed when American Meb Keflezighi, a three-time Olympian who ran at UCLA, won the men's race in 2:08:37 and became the first American male runner to win the Boston Marathon since 1983.

    Meb has his name and winning time inscribed at this Copley Square monument

    While the Boston Marathon would certainly be a stretch goal for me personally, I know that with the right motivation and sufficient time, I could accomplish that or any other goal I put my mind to achieving. As the saying goes, there is nothing that one cannot do, given sufficient quantities of coffee.

    Java IV, stat!

    Fear and anger got me off the couch, into my running togs, and onto the training track. Defiance motivated me to action and helped me motivate others to join the just cause. But there was an emotion even more powerful than my hatred for the despicable Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the attack against us. That more powerful emotion was the love I felt for the fallen and the wounded and for people who, like my brother, are fighting cancer. I ran not to win or avoid defeat, but simply to show care and concern for those unable to run.

    Fear got me moving, but everything changed in the moment when I realized the night before the race that the marathon was not about "me." Had I focused on me and my goals and fears, I may not have finished. Instead, I focused on what I could do for others. That is the moment that love took over from fear--and that feeling of love is what enabled me to finish.

    That, and plenty of coffee.

    So it was no small event for me, my recent pilgrimage to Boylston Street. And it has been a pleasure to share my reflections in words and pictures. What happened at the Finish line in 2013 was really more of a beginning in many ways--for me, at least, and maybe for many others.

    Street art found at the scene: In Pursuit of Magic


    In addition to my photos and personal reflections, I have a thought challenge to share with you. What is your motivation? What is your equivalent Boston Marathon Bombing moment? What ignites your passion? If a person close to you is fighting for survival, what are you doing to channel your fears, concerns, hopes, and prayers into something positive, something helpful, maybe even something "unifyingly defiant"?  How do you poke a bony finger in death's chest? How do you express the opposite of fear, darkness, grief, and death? How do you express love?

    I suppose every marathoner considers running in the grand-daddy of all marathons. Begun in 1897, inspired by the success of the first modern-day marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world's best-known road racing events. It is one of six World Marathon Majors. Amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon each year, braving the hilly New England terrain and varying weather to take part in the race.

    The qualifying standards to earn a runner's bib are quite high. To qualify, one must have a certified run time faster than the age- and gender-adjusted standard. For men my age, that maximum allowed marathon finish time is 3:30--quite a bit better then my current PR. I am going to have to have a serious chat with my knees and ankles before committing to the goal of qualifying for Boston!

    Thursday, August 7, 2014

    Happy PhilosFX Day!

    At midnight UTC (8 pm Eastern) between 6 and 7 Aug, I ended 48 months of blogging, and officially started month 49. To celebrate, I snagged a picture of a 4-year-old's Batman birthday cake, and pasted it here for your viewing pleasure.

    Because, Batman...

    PhilosFX is FOUR years old! Whooot!

    Thanks for reading and helping celebrate four years of Philosophy + Special Effects here at PhilosFX!

    A statistical snapshot illustrating a year of growth and progress (or if not progress, at least change):

    • First-time views rose 60% to 29,770 vs. 18,609 after three years.
    • Total views have climbed 46% to 132,500 from 90,700 this time last year
    • Countries visited have increased 37% to 187 compared to 137 a year ago

    Wednesday, August 6, 2014


    Are YOU ready for some Notre Dame Fightin' Irish Football?

    Get your Leprechaun / State Map mash-up banner HERE
    ND Monogram / State Flag mash-ups are coming soon!

    I suppose Countries of the World will follow soon--Notre Dame is everywhere! 

    Post Script to the 2014 Season: ND started 6-0 in 2014...
    and then THIS happened!

    Monday, August 4, 2014

    George Carlin on the Life of Ideas

    Playboy Interview: George Carlin

     • PLAYBOY • JANUARY 1982

    "There are two ways to think about this existence we have. One of them is that it’s Wednesday and it’s three fifteen and we’re talking here in my home, and at four o’clock I have to leave for another meeting. Now, that’s a reality. But there’s another reality. We’re in the solar system of a second-rate star, three quarters of the way out on a spiral arm of an average galaxy in a thing called the Local Group. And ours is only one of billions of galaxies, each of which has billions of stars. Some star systems are binary, and there could be a planet that revolves around a center of gravity between two binary stars. So you’d have two sunrises and two sunsets every day. One could be a red giant, the other a white dwarf; two different-sized, -shaped and -colored suns in the sky. And there might be other planets and comets. In other words, f#@k Wednesday, f#@k three fifteen, f#@k four o’clock, f#@k the United States, f#@k the earth. It’s all temporal bulls&!t. I like thinking about being out there and not thinking about the corporate structure, not worrying about freedom and not worrying about guns. I chose a life of ideas. That entertains me. That nourishes me. And that’s why I run from this conversation." --George Carlin, 1982

    For more, please see

    And no, the irony of re-publishing a mere snippet of a much longer article (which itself was re-published from the even longer original interview in Playboy) for the purpose of celebrating long form journalism did not escape me. While we're at it, no, the absurdity of obscuring the cuss words in a George Frickin' Carlin quote did not get by me, either. 

    Yet, here we are, on a Monday night at 8:51 pm on a planet in the solar system of a second-rate star in an average galaxy.


    Sunday, August 3, 2014

    The Mission? Remission!

    Note: this post follows and builds upon a similar Facebook status I posted previously.

    Today I am quietly celebrating three years of remission. Three years ago today, my endocrinologist told me in person what he and my oncologist had decided after interpreting my latest labs: No Evidence of Disease. What a thrill and what a relief to hear those three little letters: N.E.D.

    I was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma in September 2008. The battle that ensued consumed the better part of 3 years. Biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, scans, labs--It all seems so long ago. These days, I take a pill every morning and I have frequent labs and ultrasound checks, but otherwise, all is well with me. 

    As you read this, please join me in celebration of early detection and good facilities, and competent treatment, for these may have saved my life. Celebrate also compassionate support and ongoing research to find a cure for this dreaded disease.

    Today my joy is tempered by my younger brother's ongoing struggle. He was diagnosed in November 2012 with a cancer much more difficult to treat. His battle continues and I long for the day when he will hear my favorite three-letter word: NED

    No one wants cancer. All of us who have heard their doctor pronounce the diagnosis have crossed a line no one wants to cross. Once crossing the line, one's perspective on life is forever changed. There is no cure for cancer (yet!), and one cannot un-get it. Once cancer is in your body, the best you can hope for is to get the disease into a management phase known as remission. 

    For those of us who have walked the walk and survived. let us talk the talk to raise awareness, increase empathy, and improve funding for research and care. For my brother and everyone I know fighting cancer today, 

    your mission is re-mission!