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A Puff of Absurdity: Is This the Sixth Estate?

The “Fourth Estate” is an antiquated term for unofficial social and political forces, primarily the media. Use of the term recognized, over two centuries ago, that the media affect social change. But once that became clear, it became a tool of the establishment. The church, politicians, and corporations started using the media to sway . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Is This the Sixth Estate?

A Puff of Absurdity: On Being Useful: a Necessary Shift in Radicalism

“Oh, what can we do in a case like that? Nothing to do but sit on your hat, or your toothbrush, or your grandmother, or anything else that’s useless.“

Those are the butchered words of a Burl Ives song I sang as a kid until my sister corrected me. The last word is actually helpless, not . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Being Useful: a Necessary Shift in Radicalism

A Puff of Absurdity: On Missing the Girls

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen  (Everyone’s using that bit today, but they always skip the first part of the verse.)

As I started down the road towards mastectomy-ville, I wondered how weird it would . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Missing the Girls

A Puff of Absurdity: On the Nature of Gifts and Help

Being helped so much by so many has led me to thinking about the idea of help and of gifts and Derrida’s idea that gifts are impossible in that, in part and very briefly (he wrote a whole book on this), once we give to someone it sets up a debt, which is poisonous as . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On the Nature of Gifts and Help

Politics and its Discontents: Our Paradoxical Species

Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably knows that I am something of a cynic when it comes to our species. Sure, there are many exceptions, but as a whole, we seem oblivious to our obligations to the world around us. Cossetted by our conveniences… . . . → Read More: Politics and its Discontents: Our Paradoxical Species

Politics and its Discontents: Our Paradoxical Species

Anyone who reads this blog regularly probably knows that I am something of a cynic when it comes to our species. Sure, there are many exceptions, but as a whole, we seem oblivious to our obligations to the world around us. Cossetted by our conveniences, our technologies and our bloated lifestyles, we far too often prefer to ignore all the evidence of the toll such indulgences take on the world.

I doubt that yesterday’s message from the Pope will have much effect on us, given our endless capacity for kicking the ball down the road. The CBC reports the following:

In the message, Francis said the faithful should use the holy year to ask forgiveness for the “sins” against the environment that have been committed by the “irresponsible, selfish” and profit-motivated economic and political system.

He called for all of humanity to take concrete steps to change course, starting with repaying what he called the “ecological debt” that wealthy countries owe the poor.

“Repaying [the debt] would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development,” he wrote.

But on a personal, more local level, we all have a role to play, he said:

For example: “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices”.

Each of the above is easy to accomplish, but my hunch is that most can’t be bothered, consumed as they are by the busyness of their lives.

Is our collective indifference because we can’t personalize the existential threats we face (until, of course, we are flooded or burned out, of course)? I pose the question as I acknowledge the deeply paradoxical and conflicting facts of our nature. When, for example, we are called upon to act to help individuals, our courage can reach heroic, almost mythical proportions, as witnessed in the following:

How can we simultaneously be so selfish and so selfless? And more importantly, how can we harness what we are truly capable of for the common good? I wish I had some answers.

. . . → Read More: Politics and its Discontents: Our Paradoxical Species

A Puff of Absurdity: On Command F: a Bittersweet Function

I tell my students of the magic of “command F” on Macs and “control F” on PCs. This F function key, that can find a word or phrase anywhere in the text, is a game-changer when hunting for the best quotation or for that juicy bit of information or when… . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Command F: a Bittersweet Function

A Puff of Absurdity: On Population Control and Freedom at Any Cost

China has officially ended its one-child policy, and the New York Times argues against any similar policy ever existing again.

The Chinese government’s decision to end its draconian one-child policy is a pragmatic economic move, but it’s hardly sufficient. The government continues to control personal freedom by limiting the number of children a . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Population Control and Freedom at Any Cost

Writings of J. Todd Ring: A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

Empathy is natural in human beings, as Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out – and with strong backing by recent scientific findings. Some human beings have more and some less; and some are sociopaths – roughly 1% (and usually, the ones who gravitate to positions of wealth and power, unsurprisingly) – who have a near total . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

A Puff of Absurdity: On So Much Anger

Anger may be defined as an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or towards what concerns one’s friends. If this is a proper definition of anger, it must always be felt towards some particular individual, e.g. Cleon, and not “man” . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On So Much Anger

A Puff of Absurdity: On ASD and Labels and Being Weird

I wrote about this two years ago, and coming across this site on autism stories inspired me to revisit why labels can sometimes be helpful. Sort of. Here’s the relevant part of my previous post:

“But here’s another part of the problem: if a student in my class acts differently, and I explain to . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On ASD and Labels and Being Weird

A Puff of Absurdity: On Acting Nice

I’ve been watching lots of movies and thinking about this bit from Aristotle:

“But we get the virtues by having first performed the energies, as is the case also in all the other arts; for those things which we must do after having learnt them we learn to do by doing them; as, . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Acting Nice

A Puff of Absurdity: On Glorifying Psychopaths

Murray Dobbin wrote a very provocative article relating our TV viewing of psychopaths to our politics.  Owen explored the glorification of psychopaths in a post discussing the article, and I commented there on the difficulty of establishing kindness in our self-absorbed culture.  I wrote years ago about the crux of the problem: that it’s . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Glorifying Psychopaths

A Puff of Absurdity: On That List of Excuses for Not Having Sex Floating Around the Interweb

I wanted to chime in on a facebook discussion about that list (a man made a spreadsheet of his wife’s excuses for refusing sex), but it wasn’t started by an official FB friend, so I couldn’t comment on it.  I’m not sure the etiquette on this, so I’ll just keep everyone anonymous.  Here’s the opener . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On That List of Excuses for Not Having Sex Floating Around the Interweb

Politics and its Discontents: A Christmas Thought

While I was not going to post anything today, I offer the following brief thought:

During this season and throughout 2014, may our hearts be attuned to those who can inspire us rather than to those who seek to manipulate and subjugate. May we begin to rediscover, as our greatest moral heroes amply demonstrate, that . . . → Read More: Politics and its Discontents: A Christmas Thought

Politics and its Discontents: Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

H/t Catherin Bradbury

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bowI shot the ALBATROSS.

-excerpted from The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge

In what may seem like a very long time ago but is, by historical standards, really but a blink of the . . . → Read More: Politics and its Discontents: Lessons Learned, Lessons Forgotten

Politics and its Discontents: Something Different

…to counteract the cynicism we can’t help but feel following the political beat:

Recommend this Post

A Puff of Absurdity: On Categorization of Behaviours and Abilities

People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will change everything.  There is no single magic bullet.  – Temple Grandin

Some people are quite upset about the recent change to the DSM that removes Aspergers as a separate category from Autism. Now kids formally diagnosed as having Aspergers are on the Autism . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Categorization of Behaviours and Abilities

A Puff of Absurdity: On Liberty and Death

One of the reasons I advocate for restrictions on personal freedom as a means to save our species from extinction is that I need my own behaviours to be externally regulated!  Intellectually, I can assess what I need from what I want – I think better than most even.  I’m usually at the tail-end . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Liberty and Death

A Puff of Absurdity: On Worry

There were many terrible things in my life and most of them never happened.” ―  Montaigne At first I was worried about normal things.  Plane crashes.  Theft.   Okay, maybe kidnapping and prostitution rings entered my mind a little, but I get carried away sometimes.  It’s not that I don’t trust the people of Thailand . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Worry

A Puff of Absurdity: Animal Testing: What’s wrong with education this time?

Okay it’s really about our kids.  But this post was inspired, in part, by this cartoon gaining swift popularity:

There’s a burgeoning rebellion against the way we teach.  I’m all for rebellion, but we have to figure out if we really want to overhaul the entire system or just tweak it a . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Animal Testing: What’s wrong with education this time?

A Puff of Absurdity: Humans: Too Invasive or Too Compassionate to Survive

In my last post, and elsewhere over the years, I went all Agent Smith and suggested that humans are a virus that can’t be contained. All other animals work within their environment to regulate their population.  As long as people don’t mess things up by moving animals around (like bringing rabbits to Australia where they . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Humans: Too Invasive or Too Compassionate to Survive

Politics and its Discontents: An Embodiment Of The Transcendent

Adrianne Haslet and Beth Roche are two faces of the human spirit I was trying to talk about the other day.

I am in awe. Recommend this Post

Politics and its Discontents: Finding The Light Amidst Despair

During my teaching days, in the aftermath of 9/11 a student came to see me to discuss her feelings of helplessness and despair in the face of such monumental evil. While I had no special wisdom to offer her, I did say that although I had been witness to some terrible world events in . . . → Read More: Politics and its Discontents: Finding The Light Amidst Despair

A Puff of Absurdity: On Our Rape Culture: Rehtaeh Parsons’ Unfortunate Legacy

And another one gone – a victim of assault and revenge porn enacted and filmed by a bunch of teenaged boys who had more power than they might have ever imagined:  they could kill from a distance.  As Elizabeth Renzetti says of these double-barrel assaults, they are, “not just an act of violence but . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Our Rape Culture: Rehtaeh Parsons’ Unfortunate Legacy