Tag Archives: thought

Perception vs. Reality

12 May

One of the great dangers is letting our thoughts become our reality. So at my new job, I get a very nice benefit; I get a bus/rail pass. Considering my job is downtown, it makes far more sense to use it, but I was surprised on how many co-workers would not.

The reason they don’t has nothing to do with timing or location… it’s “the light rail is smelly.” They were afraid of dealing with urine-stained seats and homeless people riding the rails. The truth is… there’s none of that. I rode it this morning and everything was spotless, no smelling people, just people on their way to work. But people were convinced that it was that they didn’t want to ride it.

It just struck me as a very unusual complaint, probably by people who hadn’t taken the light rail in years. Buses… okay, you may have a point, but generally the buses in my neighborhood are pretty clean. I was really just taken aback by the weirdness of that argument. There are plenty of reasons that people might not take the bug. I have to drop off my kids. What if there’s an emergency? I need to get home quickly.

What’s prevented me in the past is the inconvenience angle. When I lived in outer Cincinnati, I took the express bus to work, only a fifteen minute walk to the stop, shot me downtown, and then there was a shuttle to take me to work. Cheaper, easier, and much less stressful. Then we moved from beyond the beltway to a much closer burb. I rode my bike to the bus stop, shot on close to my job on the local bus, and then waited for the bus at the end of the day to take me back. And waited. And waited. And when it showed up, there were three in a row, because all the refugees from downtown slowed down the bus.

This honked me off so much, that I just rode home one day… all 11 1/2 miles of it. I did it, felt exhausted, but made it home in one piece. After that, I did it on purpose. Then eventually, I took the bike down to work as well as back up and only rode the bus again when I broke my hand. Because it was simply faster.

So I’ll admit, I’m taking advantage of the light rail because it’s gonna only a little more time and save me a whole ton of money. Plus I love trains. But thinking that it’s “smelly” when it’s not? I think there’s an impression of the last time you rode… or the impression that you think you remember from one incident long ago… and that colors your actions. It’s a strange thought, but so often gets applied to many subjects. The same way that the first thing you heard about a subject becomes the absolute truth, despite any facts to the contrary.

Does this happen to you? Let me know in the comments below! Then once you’ve done that, why not pick up one of my books? But if you’re not convinced of my writing to spend $1.99, download one of my stories for free!

“I didn’t change, the party changed!”

9 Apr

We’re in the midst of a party realignment–what it means to be Democrat or Republican in the 20’s is not what it was even ten years ago. How will this end? Well, we can see what happened in America when this happened at least twice before.

It’s a common fallacy that how things are today are how things have always been. America tends to be a two-party state, although it wasn’t designed that way, it’s a consequence of having single-member districts. When you can only elect one representative for one area, you need to have a large enough party organization to cover multiple district races in order to promote change. You have to convince enough voters that “we have the votes to get you what you want,” and that’s a lot easier if you can get a majority in the legislature.

In India, they’re able to do this by creating coalitions of like-minded parties. When they talk about the BJP gaining a majority, what they’re really saying is the BJP and its allies, which are regional groups that can enact change in their individual states. Britain has its Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Sein Fein, and Unionist Party that all have seats in London… but only because they dominate their local legislatures. In America, Bernie Sanders is a Socialist senator because Vermont had a Socialist Party organization… it’s now divided into Progressive Party and Liberty Union Party, but Bernie’s been popular enough he can just call himself “independent.”

But in America, the Republicans weren’t there from the beginning–they only arose in 1850–in reaction to the rising anti-slavery movement. Many Northerners were disgusted by the Whig Party’s compromise in the expansion of slavery into the western territories. As a result, the Whigs divided into the new Republican camp, went back to the Democratic camp, or created a new party called Constitutional Union. The Whigs themselves were a compromise of people disgusted by Andrew Jackson’s domination of Democratic politics… which at the time, was the only political party.

When enough of the elected officials decide to break away from their party to form their own, it tends to be effective. Take the Progressive Party in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt, probably our most badass president, broke away from the Republican Party to create his own party because he (and others like him) needed to purify American politics. This involved radical ideas like equitable worker compensation, improved child labor laws, minimum wage legislation, a limited workweek, graduated income tax and allowing women the right to vote. Contrary to what you might believe, modern “progressives” have nothing in common with these pioneers. Minimum wage laws were there to protect white workers against the wave of cheap immigrant labor. Child labor ban meant employers couldn’t scam their regular workers out of jobs. Women’s votes came with the prohibition of alcohol.

In areas where one-party dominates, but doesn’t split off and form another party, candidates are labeled differently. They don’t dare let go of the party title, because only a godless heathen / racist pig would vote for the actual opposition party. In Chicago, it’s Machine Democrats and Reformist Democrats. In national politics, we talk about Progressive Democrats and Old-School Democrats, because Americans won’t vote for a Progressive Party candidate… after all, “they have no chance of winning.”

What happens to the splitters is what happened to the Progressive Party back in 1916… some of their ideas were absorbed in order to get the voters back into the party. For those who didn’t think they went far enough, they joined the Democrats, which is why the Democrats in the 1920’s stopped being the party of big business and became the party of organized labor. The Tea Party Republicans got absorbed into the Old School system. Nowadays, there’s a Liberty Caucus within the GOP that fights against the big business emphasis of the Old School.

So what will happen? The Democrats will absorb some of the progressive’s aims, to keep the wave of college-educated younger voters, but if they absorb too many, they will lose their regular base voters, and have to realign back to the middle. Republicans are starting to become the voice of the working class, but if they focus too much on the Old School views, they’ll lose voters again. So I imagine a massive Democratic loss in the 2022 mid-terms, which will force them back to the middle again.

Personally, I would like a multiple party system–make political parties more ideologically honest–but I don’t hold out much hope. But what do you think? Do you think there’s a chance that either the Dems or GOP will split into a competing parties? Will we keep going to the extremes? Let me know in the comments below! Meanwhile, vote with your paycheck, and buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too much of a risk with your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’m Marcus Johnston and I approve this message. 😀

Tea Bag Wisdom

5 Jan

Maybe the words of the prophets ARE written on the subway walls… and tenement halls? After all, the quality of fortunes in fortune cookies have gone down, let’s look to tea bags for pithy sayings!

I will endeavor to keep my snark level at a minimum for this post. However, after looking at a particular New Year’s post, this reminded me of a particular brand of (really good) tea that puts these sayings on their tea bags, most of which are about the level of the fortune cookie. Not particularly useful, rather obvious, and mostly not helping your daily life. After all, “Let your energy be used to build, not destroy,” could mean anything, but means nothing. It’s not like I was going to create a spreadsheet today, but I decide, “Screw it, I’m going to defenestrate Prague!”

This particular saying reminds me of a tradition told about the Buddha — that after he was born, he said to his parents, “There has been no one like me before me, there will no like me after me.” Upon reflection, this is what every child tells their parent… because they don’t know any better. 🙂

This tea bag conveys the Wheaton Principle: “Don’t be a dick.” Despite the triteness of this saying, it’s actually good advice. It’s so easy to be mean, it’s much harder to be good. However, one action follows another. If you’re good to one person, that person is actually more likely to be good to another, because you’ve put them in a positive mood. Moods are infectious and do create a sequence based on the initial moment.

However, most tea bag wisdom is pretty bad writing. “Your strength is your own belief” – seriously? “Your overconfidence is your weakness.” “Your faith in your friends is yours.” Sure, if I had the faith the size of a mustard seed, I could move mountains, but if I did have that power, I wouldn’t need to. It’s important to believe in something and draw strength from that belief… but this advice doesn’t help anyone.

Okay, let me REALLY tell you what I think about you! 🙂 Saying what you mean is often the WORST advice you can give someone. As I said at the beginning, I’m going to keep the snark down, but if the snark is strong in me, imagine how strong it is in other people! We train ourselves at an early age NOT to say what we mean, despite the consequences to ourselves, because of the previous tea bag wisdom–“create the sequence of goodness.” Politeness is the sign of an advanced society; does it mean we hide our true feelings, sure, but we do it for the benefit of others.

Now I know what you’re thinking–you have a kid studying to be a dentist?! No, I was working at UConn Medicine and needed a coffee mug. That happened to be the one on sale. However, the tea was really good–I go with the Triple Ginger to get me through the Connecticut snowy winter.

I think in the end, the tea manufacturer has its heart in the right place. Sometimes the right saying at the right time can really change someone’s heart for the good. I was about to quit student teaching when I heard the words “Don’t Quit” twice in one morning; during a school announcement and a silly sign on the wall. But much like missionaries, you have to hit people at the right time.

Do you find wisdom in the tea bags, fortune cookies, and pithy signs of the world? Or is there a more sinister element to it? Or is it harmless fun to add to the spice of life? Let me know in the comments below!

Baroque Tuning

18 Oct

Somebody once observed to the eminent philosopher Wittgenstein how stupid medieval Europeans living before the time of Copernicus must have been that they could have looked at the sky and thought that the sun was circling the earth. Surely a modicum of astronomical good sense would have told them that the reverse was true. Wittgenstein is said to have replied: “I agree. But I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun had been circling the earth?”

James Burke, The Day the Universe Changed

I love James Burke – he created several documentaries that really challenged how I viewed history. In fact, the quote is from The Day the Universe Changed, which explains the history of thought. People did not think the same throughout history – fundamentally different ways of viewing the world – because if someone tells you the sun goes around the earth… well, it looks that way, doesn’t it? Common sense. Let me give you a minor revealation to me that the way things now are not how they were.

James Burke – the man, the myth, the legend.

I have perfect pitch – most days, it’s a curse rather than a blessing – because although it helps with singing, it also means you notice everyone else’s singing is slightly off tune. I know what note the refrigerator is humming. Oi.

So once upon a time, I went to my stepbrother’s house and was jazzed that he had a harpsichord. He owned a church organ company, didn’t have kids, and being a musician… of course he had a harpsichord. This was the most bad-ass thing a young 14-year-old Marcus could imagine; forget the baby grand piano in the corner, this is a #*$%&@ harpsichord!

So I’m playing a minuet that I had memorized that had to have been played on a harpsichord when it was composed (by Nannerl Mozart, Amadeus’ sister). I’m playing it on this cool instrument and I’m disturbed to hear that it played flat. So I go through the piece and look over at my stepbrother and ask, “What’s wrong with the harpsichord?” He smiles and pointing to a strange block at the right end of the keyboard, he says, “Oh, I left it on Baroque tuning, that’s why it sound flat.”

Baroque tuning? I wondered. Yes, it turns out that there was no standardized pitch until 100 years ago. They did what I do to tune my guitar; pick one tune for the low note and make sure all other strings are tuned in relation to that one. To explain, the note A is set at a modern standard of 440 hertz (that’s what the tuning fork does). Although there was no standard back in Mozart’s day, most musicians came to a consensus and said – on average – the tuning of an A note was around 410 hertz. So an A today would have sounded like an A sharp.

The sound of many of the great composers’ work is going to sound flat to modern ears. This is a minor detail, but it made me question how we perceive many of things in the modern world.

Have you ever had a minor revelation like that? Did you know no one thought to standardize piano tuning until 1885? Do you think that’s a good thing? Let me know in the comments below!

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