Monthly Archives: April 2013

Travel Inspires

The space is what I loved. Acres of green land perfectly manicured by nature. A dense forest and green pastures then an opening where a Georgian style mansion stood. There was peace.

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There was real quiet. The kind of quiet that you actually notice. Only the sound of a few birds and the wind. No car horns, no hum of technology, just quiet. I could imagine myself in a quiet study with the windows open and a fresh cup of coffee. Maybe I would be reading or writing something myself. I would relax with a fire going and take a look outside the window for inspiration.

I felt the same way in Guatemala. On top of the mountain staring down at the coffee plantation and small villages below. Only a few small houses were this high. A modest brick home with two bedrooms and a rustic kitchen and a beautiful garden. In the distance a few dormant volcanoes. Here too the people are in no rush and the escape of the constant hum of civilization is gone. One thing I notice – the dark. The dark is deeper than at home. Sleep follows easier because of it.

When I return home from places like these I always have ideas of getting away for good. This time, when we returned from Ireland, I made up my mind I would buy 20 acres in South Georgia. Twenty acres away from anyone where I could build a modest cabin in the center of my own land. My own land where I could sit in my own little study, filled with old books, souvenirs from travels, and freshly ground coffee.

“That’s what I’ll do,” I tell myself. “I’ll move away from it all.” Maybe that’s my favorite part about travel – the inspiration. Maybe I will have that cabin and study one day.

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Why does my brain have so much to tell me at One in the morning?

What is it about trying to fall asleep that instantly sends my brain into hyper-drive. My thoughts rush through my brain at a million miles a second as I come to realizations, have brilliant epiphanies, and relive memories I haven’t thought about in years.

I cam to the realization that I am a dying species. I am the last of the human race that is likely to remember what it is like to write a research paper by hand and to have done said research from an encyclopedia.

I grew up in a house that didn’t have a computer until I was in high school. Since I didn’t have much experience or desire to use the computer I wrote all of my papers by hand. It was obviously inefficient, but we didn’t have a printer and something about hand written papers just felt right.

My senior year of high school literature my teacher assigned us a 10 page paper.  I remember writing several drafts, starting over, and starting over again. I must have written 100 pages. I doubt anyone younger than me will ever know what that’s like. They will take the delete button for granted.

These thoughts quickly lead me down the rabbit whole of my consciousness…

I remember my high school computer class. I remember making power point presentations that forced us to use every feature. I remember spending hours carefully crafting a power point about a car I thought was cool – huge rims and all. Just reliving little moments like that remind me how immature I was when I was 16.

Then I think of moments of adversity. Like the effort I put into sports and making good grades. I see the moments that built character and the tough spots that in retrospect probably shaped my thinking for life. I remember being a leader on the wrestling mat, I remember going another minute when I didn’t think I could. I remember beating a guy no one thought I could.

Still can’t sleep…

What kind of man do I want to be? I read an article today that said that a 75 year Harvard research study showed that relationships were the key to happiness. Good relationships. Do I have that?

Maybe I should work harder on having better relationships. I’m going hiking with Holden tomorrow. That’s good. I need to maintain that relationship. I haven’t spoken to my Mom in almost a month. I need to do better there. I haven’t spoken to a lot of people. Maybe I should make a list of people to call or email every week – just to maintain those relationships.

I’m getting older and I don’t know what’s really important anymore. I used to be so sure. When I was in middle school starting on the football team was all that mattered. In high school it was more of the same. Good grades, good athlete, wrestling, football, college, girls…pretty straight-forward.

College was easy enough. Get a degree, get a job, drink a lot of beer. Pretend to know more than you do. Check, check, and double check.

Now here I am approaching five years into full-blown adulthood and I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t believe in any personal God to throw my problems to. I am starting to understand the importance of family, but I’m not sure I have family worth investing the energy on. I have a great wife, a few great friends, and a career.

To be honest everything is great. Great – accept – I have that unsatisfied feeling in my gut sometimes. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s just that I always set my expectations so, so high. So high, in fact, that I’m not even sure where to go. I don’t know what’s next. Hints a guy blogging at 1 o’clock in the morning instead of sleeping.

That Dive Bar in Antigua, Guatemala

I remember walking in Cafe No Se. I instantly knew I had found something special. Something not quite Guatemalan, but certainly perfect for Antigua. At the entrance sat several expats discussing what must have been something philosophical – it just looked too important.

One guy at about age 50 worked at the book store next door and sported a long ponytail. I coincidentally remembered him from earlier in the day as I was browsing the local shops. He couldn’t have looked more relaxed if he tried and that was the same thing I remember thinking when I saw him in the bookstore earlier that day.

The bartender was several years sober and didn’t touch a drop of alcohol. While he made drinks for the rest of us he quietly sipped on coffee and complained about the “gringo bar” next door. Something about the way he sipped his coffee made him seem wiser than the rest of us. His almost perfect English made me nearly forget I was in Guatemala until he would shout a few words in Spanish to patrons entering the bar.

Here and there sits graffiti and signatures carved on the walls made by past and present customers who want to leave their mark. No one seems to mind and certainly not enough to ask anyone to stop. You sit at the rustic little bar for an hour or two and once you have become reasonably intoxicated and stupid enough the bartender suggest you try a few shots of ilegal Mezcal. Mezcal is a tequila-ish liquor that the bar employees claim to be the grandfather of tequila. It goes down like poison, but by the time they offer it to you it’s too late to say no anyways.

Perhaps the best part of the entire bar is closing out your tab. After a long night of drinking and conversation I fully expected to be robbed of what little dignity I had left with a giant bar tab, but that’s when you realize – you are in Guatemala and have been paying Central America prices. I close out my tab at about $40 (US) and escape with enough money to buy a cup of coffee in the morning.

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Thoughts on Family and Happiness

Family, for me, is a conundrum.

On one hand I am fairly positive that family – if you dedicate yourself to it – is probably the most rewarding and fulfilling thing about life. On the other hand – opening yourself up to a group of people takes a lot of work and effort. There is love and belonging, but you are also subject to heartache, anger, and betrayal. There is unparalleled love and comfort- then there is your mom committing suicide and your dad’s methamphetamine addiction.

Family is Good

For example, some of my best memories are of when I was a chubby kid running around with my cousins during the holidays. I remember going to my Grandmother’s house and the entire family circled around the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I remember the butterflies in my stomach the night before because I couldn’t wait to eat serving after serving of home-cooked-southern-fried-everything. I remember the turkey and dressing, the potato salad, the sweet tea, the laughs, and the feeling of belonging. I remember my chubby face and bowl cut – never happier. There was no place on earth I belonged more.

Family can be a real bitch

In contrast I know all too well the feelings of betrayal and anger by those same bastards I call family. I remember the stressful Christmas’s when all I wanted is for my parents to get along. I remember the shit my childhood turned into. I think of the blame I lay on my Grandmother. I think of all the things that have resulted in long rants on this very blog.

Dichotomy

Then my thoughts turn to my wife. I see the amazing, almost disgusting, family she has. I feel such an awkward appreciation toward what they have. I see all the makings of true happiness and I am simultaneously annoyed by it.  Too many emotions my body has built no mechanism to deal with.

Dichotomy.

The most important thing in life and also the most painful – family. The decision to accept and forgive or to avoid and create new. Not knowing what to do – it makes you realize just how human you are, how fragile, even when you want to seem tough.

I’m not sure what makes a person truly happy in life, but the older I become the more I realize that family is an inevitable and necessary part of the equation. So in the end the only option is to embrace it. Embrace family.

But as smart as I think I am sometimes – I still have no idea how to go about it.

Lebanese Cuisine in Vancouver

One thing many cities in the United States seem to be missing is really good middle-eastern cuisine. Canada, however, has plenty.  I had the lamb plate with greek salad, potatos, hummus, and rice. $8 and delicious.

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Bombings, Shootings: What Radicalizes Young People?

The last few months have been marked by three events that stand out vividly in my mind.

1. The Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting.
2. The Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting.
3. The Boston Marathon Bombing.

Each of these three incidents have been remarkably similar in nature. Each of them were:

1. Perpetrated by young middle-class men.
2. Each involved mental radicalization eventually driving young men to perform acts of violence.
3. The victims were random (suggesting the action was to prove a point, not to kill a target).

With these patterns identified we have to ask ourselves what’s going on and why are young men radicalizing. Why are they so dissatisfied with current affairs that they are driven to acts of violence and terrorism? What clicked in their mind that they felt justified in harming innocent people?

Insanity?

They cop-out is to say that these people are just insane. They are crazy and that’s why they did it. End of case. But I don’t think that’s a fair analysis.

Even the media paints a portrait of insanity. We constantly hear key words like: “insane”, “mental health problems”, and “history of mental health”, but by all accounts these young men were not insane at all.

I recall interviews with families and friends after each event. What did people have to say about each of these guys? They were normal!

1. Friends and family of Aurora, Colorado shooter (James Holmes) as a normal guy: here and here
2. Friends and family of Sandy Hook shooter (Adam Lanza) as a normal guy: here
3. Boston Marathon bomber (Jahar, suspect # 2) described as a normal and popular guy: here and here

The way these events took place imply almost anything but insanity. Each of these events were carefully crafted and planned. This wasn’t the work of a person who suddenly lost their mind. Each of these events were the work of a methodical planner. A planner who performed these acts based on facts and emotion which did not dissipate. These were the acts of men who had come to terms with their ideology which allowed each perpetrator in question to justified their behavior and actions.

This was radicalization, not insanity.

Radicalization

To understand and prevent future acts of violence like these perhaps we should stop sweeping the truth under the rug. Perhaps we should stop labeling these young men as “crazy” and try to understand their motive. Try to understand why others might do the same thing.

Are the dissatisfied with the current state of affairs? Why? Have they been radicalized by extremist books, literature, or other media? Why did they listen to it? Why did they find themselves agreeing with extremist viewpoints? Is this blow-back or something else?

Mental Health, Media, and Other Factors

There are many factors that come in to play when talking about a person willing to take the lives of a group of innocent people. They have to fit a certain mental profile. They must be dissatisfied with life to a point that calls them to action. They must have gotten these ideas from somewhere, it seems.

The Media

Something a lot of people aren’t talking about is the media’s role in all this. Is it possible that the media’s constant highlighting of radical actions inadvertently promote such behavior? By desensitizing young people to such events that it makes committing such an act seem more possible? Is the media making radicalization sexy? I think there is some truth to this idea.

Society and Mental Health

We also need to carefully monitor what societal and mental factors prompt a young person to take actions like this. How do they build the courage to take a life(s)? Is this some combination of desensitization of murder, unhappiness with life, and mental predisposition? I don’t know the answer.

The one think I do know is that everyone should be asking themselves a lot of questions. What are we doing wrong? Why are people doing this? What factors drives a young person to such measures?

I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to blame anyone. The perpetrators are the guilty. What I’m trying to say is that it is too easy to just call them crazy and forget about it. To truly fix the problem we need to find the root cause. We need to examine what makes ordinary and even upstanding young men (by accounts of friends and family) turn to violence and radicalization. If we can figure this out – we can solve the problem.

Police State or State of Insanity?

Below is a video of a man in Texas who was arrested and disarmed by officers after someone called the police. Watch the video and let’s discuss.

Two Sides

In my attempt to remain level headed I want to examine both sides of the story here.

The Officer 

On one side we have the police officers. They received a call about a man carrying a rifle while walking down a Texas road. Their heart begins to pound because anytime you have to respond to a man with a gun your life could be in danger. Guns do have the potential to kill and when entering in a situation as such one must be prepared.

The police see the man and an intimidating weapon and a slight panic sets in. They ask the man to turn over his weapon and he gives them an attitude. This automatically makes the situation worse. The cops stop following protocol and act in self interest. Their first concern is disarming a man who seems aggressive – this isn’t by the book, but things are moving so fast that it’s easy to see why mistakes are made.

Gun violence has been all the talk on the news and in precincts everywhere. Tensions are high and protecting life is top priority.

The Armed Citizen

The man is a veteran and purposely chose rural Texas as a place to call home. He chose rural Texas because he believed that values he holds dear are upheld here. He has been desensitized by weapons after carrying one for several years in Afghanistan. He is a proud man and fought to defend the rights of all Americans and he wants to exerciser his to the utmost – that includes legally carrying a gun.

When the officer stops him he feels violated. This is America. This is Texas. He is just a man protecting himself and his son. The officer, who is a little panicked, tries to grab the citizen’s weapon away. This is it – unacceptable – this is exactly the kind of fascism and lawlessness the former soldier fought for to protect. It is inexcusable that any man try to take those rights away – the ones he was literally willing to die for.

The citizen is infuriated. This stamps on everything he believes in – and his son is there to watch.

Clarity

When you see it from both sides it kind of becomes obvious why there was so much conflict. Both sides had a good point, but both failed to realize the other had their own perspective. I would even go as far as to say that perhaps neither were wrong completely, but both failed to see the other person’s point of view. Both were hyper aware of the gun and less aware of the situation. The cop was trying to protect his own life (as far as he knew) and the citizen was trying to protect his rights and beliefs (which he was obviously very passionate about).

How the Media has distorted Judgement

When I first watched this video I felt a lot of emotion. Then as I contemplated it – I realized a lot of those emotions were not my own. They were implanted by the media. They were thoughts and ideas that someone else told me to think. Carefully formulated rhetoric designed by the anti-gun and pro-gun lobbies to persuade judgement. It seems like this has affected almost everyone’s ability to judge the situation without bias.

We know the ideas: Guns are bad. People with guns kill people. Universal background checks. Common-sense laws. The Government is bad. The Government wants to take guns away so they can control us. Blah blah blah.

Maybe what we need to do is sit down and rethink this whole issue. Forget the guns and think PEOPLE. We need to educate people. We need to change the culture. People are both the problem and solution.

Side Note: The New Vietnam?

I also see a frightening pattern regarding returning veterans. Will this be a new pattern? Returning vets realizing they fought in Iraq based on a lie the Government sold based on Nuclear weapons that didn’t exist. A war that was never declared and never ended? Will proud vets return home to a population that quickly dismissed their cause and doesn’t appreciate their sacrifice? In the end I can see nothing good from the kind of endless war we’re in. History forgotten is quickly repeated.