Thursday, August 4, 2016

Toddlers & Why?

My son has now reached the inquisitive stage of early childhood, more succinctly known as the “Why?” phase. I am still trying to find a balance between encouraging this critical moment of cognitive development and not overloading him with unnecessary information. An example would be in the parking lot of one of his T-Ball games when I pointed out that his teammate was getting out of the car next to us with his father (also the coach):

Me: There is the coach and your friend getting out of that car.

Him: Why?

Me: They rode together to come to the game.

Him: Why?

Me: Because the coach is his dad and the whole family came in one car just like we did.

Him: Why?

Me: Why did they ride in the same car?

Him: No….Why is the coach his dad?

It was at this juncture that I had to make a critical choice. I could redirect the line of question to 
something innocuous or follow him down the rabbit hole. I chose poorly……

Me: Because he and your friend’s mommy are his parents.

Him: Why?

Me: Because before he was born they met, found each other mutually attractive and decided to commit to a relationship that involved having children.

Him: Why?

I was briefly tempted to begin a soliloquy on societal norms and the ethics of procreation and monogamy, but thankfully my son rescued me from my own moronic impulses by asking, “Did they bring snacks?”

We have also recently begun having discussions about employment, capitalism and economic inequality. Just about every morning my son will ask me why I have to go to work. I had previously been able to placate him with something vague about it “being a workday” but this sort of thing no longer suffices. I then told him that I went to work so that I could get money to pay our bills. He countered with the inevitable “Why?” and I did not think that he was ready for the Adam-Smith-reciprocal-economy-versus-capitalism talk, so I just told him that when we go to the grocery we need money to get food.

He then asked if it “costs me anything” to go to work. Feeling that it was unnecessary to shoulder him the with concept of the mental - and occasionally emotional - burdens of providing for the economic security of the ones you love, I just told him that if it costs you money to go to work then “you are doing it wrong.”

This seemed to satisfy him, but I know that it will not be long until I am faced with more “why” questions and I am thankful that I get some practice runs before I have to explain hatred, poverty, famine, war and why the U.S. Postal Service cannot seem to move a package between two contiguous states without going through Texas first.

The day is rapidly approaching where I will no longer be able to give him easy answers. As difficult as it will be, perhaps my job is simply to equip him to wrestle with the mystery of existence. Even more importantly, how to find peace while existing in that mystery. He is going to ask why people hurt each other. Why he will grow up with advantages (and burdens) that were not available to (or placed upon) his peers. Why the society he lives in puts so much emphasis on characteristics we have taught him are superficial and secondary. Why it is entirely possible to do the right thing and be rewarded with the wrong outcome and why heartache and loss can make you feel that your soul is being ripped apart.

I look forward to the man he will become, but there will always be a part of me that wishes I could protect and preserve the innocence of his childhood. That some part of his spirit could forever reside within the confines of an existence that knows only unconditional love from those appreciate his sensitivity, his heart, and his curiosity for what they are: a glimpse of the God whose grace allows contentment and mystery to coexist.       

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokemon Go!

They are everywhere. Public parks, well-traversed thoroughfares, and even in your place of business. Armed with only a smartphone and a disturbing lack of peripheral awareness, they stalk their digital prey using augmented reality. They are Pokemon Go users and they can be visually differentiated from their equally-distracted texting peers by the angle at which they are holding their phone. If their head is down and their phone is parallel to the ground they are probably texting, if their head is up and their phone is in front of them and perpendicular to the ground they are playing Pokemon Go. Both could lead to vehicular homicide.

I first became aware of the phenomenon while working in my front yard several days ago. A family that lives on a connecting street was walking up the sidewalk but constantly stopping to hold their phone in front of their face. At first it appeared that they had become disoriented and were unable to find their way home, but after a brief conversation they explained to me that they were playing a game.

In fact, they informed me that they were heading to a nearby cemetery as it appeared to be a hotbed of Pokemon activity. At the conclusion of our conversation, I waved and uttered one of those sentences I never thought that I would say (“Have fun in the cemetery!”) While they are courteous people and would not have interrupted a graveside service in the pursuit of a fictional cartoon monster; I fear not all of their peers would exhibit the same decorum.

Since then, I have seen stories of teenagers stumbling across dead-bodies and criminals utilizing gathering points in the game (known as “gyms”) as opportunities to relieve players of their cash and valuables. Privacy concerns abound – what other app would you so willingly give control of your camera and GPS to? – and others are worried about traffic accidents that could be caused by players.

On the flip side, it could also bring neighbors and families together while prompting participants to stay active and explore their community. Nintendo – who owns a large stake in the Pokemon franchise – has increased its market value by $9 Billion in just a few days based upon the game's phenomenal success. With financial rewards like that at stake, I expect this will not be Nintendo’s last foray into augmented-reality gaming. I cannot wait for Resident Evil Go.

While I have not personally played it (as I fear doing so could become so engrossing that I might forget that I have a wife, children, and a need to bathe) I suppose it could be a positive trend with a few important ground rules. I have compiled a preliminary list of places that you should not be playing Pokemon Go:

Public Restrooms – Can you imagine being in a Flying J men’s room when someone comes in with their smartphone camera aimed at your urinal muttering something about “trying to capture a Jigglypuff”? This is fertile ground for a rather serious misunderstanding.

Funeral Homes – As you gently shed tears over the casket of your beloved Nana, an employee asks if you could scooch over so that he could finally get that Pikachu that has been evading him all day. Oh, and he’s sorry for your loss.

Presidential Rope Lines – I am sure that you will have plenty of time to explain to the secret service why you were pushing people out of the way while brandishing your smartphone. How can you be held responsible that Onix was hiding behind the Commander in Chief?

Operating Theaters – While we would all like to pretend that neurosurgeons and cardiologists are far too professional to become obsessed with capturing cartoon characters, there is a very real danger that someone’s appendectomy could take a nasty turn if a Charizard wanders into the operating room.

Airplanes – “Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. If everyone would be kind enough to return to your seats, a member of the flight crew will be by to collect any trash or Golems in your seating area. Please report any suspicious Voltorbs to the air marshal.”

Narcotics Stings – Given that just about any of the Pokemon monsters could easily double as a slang term for a street drug, it might not be wise to wander around rough neighborhoods inquiring as to where one might find some “Electrabuzz” “Weedle” or  “Alakazam.”

The game appears to be so captivating that people forget where they are and mindlessly gather at pre-determined “gyms” with no though to their own personal safety. Perhaps we could weaponize the game to further weaken ISIS by placing the “gym” in a strike zone. I can imagine the president addressing the nation:

            “My fellow Americans, 
                                                  Just hours ago, at my command, Squirtle and Poliwag were strategically deployed to a remote area outside Mosul. Within minutes, several members of ISIS leadership began to gathering and we had reason to believe that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself was present. I ordered an airstrike and I am pleased to announce that we have dealt a decisive blow to the leadership of the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Diglett and Snorlax were unable to be evacuated and gave the ultimate sacrifice. I have spoken to their families and expressed my deepest condolences and the condolences of a grateful nation. All gave some, some gave Charmander."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Random Thoughts 11

Parenting necessitates the use of some very unusual sentences. These have actually been said in our home:
  1. This is as loud as the hippopotamus song gets!
  2. Who put yogurt in the T-Rex’s mouth?
  3. Did someone eat all of the sidewalk chalk?
  4. When did you take your pants off?
  5. If you do not poop, you will not get a seahorse!

  • It should also be noted that, in a house of toddlers, you are unlikely to get a favorable answer to the question, “Why is ______ all wet!?” It is like playing a round of “what’s that smell?” There are no winners.
  • I love it when I request a service call to my residence and I am expected to give a binding answer concerning occupancy to a vague window of time. Such as, “We should definitely be able to get someone out there to look at your waterfall grotto, will there be anyone home after April?"
  • It is always interesting to witness a transaction when the sales clerk is forced to employ gentle euphemisms for a declined card:
  Sir, it appears that we are unable to complete the transaction within the current parameters….                       
               Swipe it again!
               Sir, the system has requested an                          alternate method of payment for your                  purchase....
                Sir, there appears to be a problem                       with your card...
                Sir, it would appear that you are                             poor...
                Oh. Can you break $100?

  • There is no greater harbinger to a forthcoming discriminatory comment than when someone prefaces their statement with, “You know me. Some of my best friends are Jewish / black / Latino / hemophiliacs / Frisbee enthusiasts / graphic design artists from Portland.”

Each time my wife or I visit a new primary care physician, the new patient questionnaire gets more and more elaborate to the point of self-diagnoses:
  1. Are you at an increased risk for prediabetes?
  2. Please circle any words that make you sad.
  3. Do you have a family history of heart disease?
  4. Did your paternal grandmother ever suffered from bowel distension?
  5. Do you think you have mono? Please explain...

At some point, the medical profession is just going to consist of individuals with the ability to comprehend a form while sitting on a rolling stool.

  • I have always wanted to answer the “Do you abuse prescription drugs on a regular basis?” question with “That depends on how today goes” or just scratch the word REVENGE where it asks for the purpose of today’s visit.   
  • The Venn diagram of American males eligible to collect social security and American males who feel compelled to mow the lawn shirtless contains more overlap than it should.
  • I just read a story about an at-home fertility machine called Trak. It determines your sperm count and syncs the data with a smartphone app. Half of America is still trying to understand how to properly respond to a group text so I imagine this can’t miss. #LittleSwimmersForHIPAA
  • Isn’t “athletic cut” a fancy way of selling you the same shirt at the same price while using less fabric?
  • New Cosmopolitan Magazine description for sales brochures: People more attractive than you have better sex than you while maintaining lower body-fat than you. Details inside.
  • My wife and I were recently in Lowes looking for carpet when a large sign caught my eye. It said “Lifetime Vomit and Feces Guarantee” I naturally assumed that this was a part of the Stainmaster Frat-House series. I jokingly asked the salesman if he had anything with stain resistance so good that it would ensure acquittal in a homicide case like a Stainmaster Forensic Series endorsed by the Gambino Family. He smiled wryly and said, “We could call it the husband series.” I did not make any more jokes with the salesman.
  • Do terrorist organizations have casual Fridays?
  • There is no faster way to locate the underside of a car tire than to reposition an extension cord.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Politics, Tragedy, and Grace

Don’t be deceived by the charlatans and hucksters attempting to sell you simplistic political solutions. They want your vote and they have only two models to address the mass shooting in Orlando:
1.      More guns here, more bombs there, less Muslims everywhere
2.      Less guns here, more diplomacy there, more tolerance everywhere
Solution 1

This would seem sensible if all (or even the majority) of mass shootings in America were committed by radical Muslims immigrants at the behest of foreign terror groups. So, for the sake of brevity, we can glance at the top 10 deadliest American mass shootings since 1966:

·         Of the 11 perpetrators (San Bernardino had two), 8 were born in the United States, 1 was from South Korea, 1 from South Vietnam, and 1 (the lone female) from Pakistan.
·         4 Were Muslim, 4 were Christian, and 3 had no discernible religious affiliation
·         Of the four Muslims, only one had any demonstrated communication or ties to an Islamic Terror Organization (although the San Bernardino shooters were inspired by ISIS to perform their acts and Omar claimed allegiance).

Assuming there was a ban on any foreign-born Muslims in place, the only perpetrator affected would have been Tashfeen Malik (the wife and accomplice of San Bernardino shooter Rizwan Farook). Sadly, we now live in a world where their rampage doesn’t even make the top six. None had criminal records and as far as we know all obtained their weapons through legal means.

Some may argue that while these might not have been immigrants in the typical sense, there is definitely a trend connecting Islam and mass shootings in America. However, any attempt to disarm gun owners based on religion or dislike of the US government would have the added irony of placing The Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association on the same page. Flippantly disarming Muslims in America would also have the unintended effect of neutralizing the 5,000 that currently serve our military and the thousands who work in law enforcement.

So, let’s eliminate all soft targets. Arm the good-guys. We already have more guns per capita than any country and guns sales have grown exponentially since 2008. Smith & Wesson’s stock has gone up almost 800% since Obama took office. Do you feel safer now than you did 10 years ago? Are you less or more fearful of random violence? Are there less or more mass shootings?

That leaves the idea of bombing ISIS into oblivion so that they can no longer inspire anyone. Suffice it to say that the whole military-action-in-the-Middle-East strategy has had dubious results at best. Even assuming that we could eliminate any mass shootings involving Muslims - and assuming that their religion was their primary motivation - it would have only affected 3 of the top 10 incidents.

If we eliminate Fort Hood, San Bernardino, and Orlando; those slots would be filled by the 2013 Washington Navy Yard Shooting, the 2012 Colorado Theater Shooting, and the 1999 Columbine Shooting. This still leaves us in a world where Dylan Roof’s 2015 murder of 9 people in a South Carolina church can’t crack the top 10.   

Solution 2

The idea here is that if there are less guns, less people die needlessly. Perhaps, but it is also true that violence can express itself any number of ways and completely eliminating guns (if such a thing could even be done) would not eliminate hate and violence. It is also true that while total pacifism sounds alluring as a moral high ground, I doubt that ISIS is the type of organization likely to respond to a gift basket and strongly-worded e-mail. Tolerance also has limits. There are certain things that can and cannot be “tolerated” by a free society in order to remain as such. 

So what are we supposed to do? 

As for me, I refuse to place my hope in political ideologies or presidential candidates. I refuse to place my hope in the goodness of mankind or the deterrent of consequence. I even refuse to place my hope in religion or its practitioners. I choose instead to place my hope in the grace exhibited through Jesus Christ. It is a grace that existed before politics, governments or religions ever formed and it shall remain once they have fallen away.

Our world knows well the transformative power of the hate and fear. In many ways, those two emotions have brought us to where we are today. I hope and pray that we demonstrate a better way forward for the sake of my children. A way where we do not blame victims for their fate or God for the terrible actions of those who invoke his name. A way where we do not continually give in to the debilitating fear of those in whom we have difficulty seeing ourselves. A way where we stop believing that our self-sufficiency can overcome our flaws and protect us from all harm. A way that seeks to emulate the Son of God who never let politics, nationality, societal norms, or even religion keep him from reminding us that we are his children and we are loved. God came looking for us. May our lives, words, and actions bear witness to the one whose prevenient grace pursues us still.