Ramadan Day 1

Soooo when you wake up to eat before the sun comes up and you drink one glass of water and you feel like that’s enough, it’s really not. I should have forced myself to drink three. I have just under two hours to go til iftar and I’m premeditating a mixture of iced tea and lemonade. I went to Meijer to buy the lemon juice and I see my son Bilal works there. We had a good conversation. He’s a good kid despite it all. And I told him I had the exact same job at the exact same Meijer when I was 19. He was like NO WAY! And I was like yeah that’s where I was working when I was AWOL from the Marine Corps and he was like WHY WERE YOU AWOL FROM THE MARINE CORPS!!?? and I was like we really need to have some conversations.

Ah, an hour and 40 minutes left.


It’s the day before Ramadan. I look forward to fasting. I’m normally not very observant so when I say I’m fasting it’s not like a holier than thou thing. If anything I’m like Rasputin except I don’t mystically heal people or bring down the Russian empire. I’m between jobs so I started playing WoW again albeit in a limited fashion because I haven’t bought the expansion. It feels a little bit like coming home. Oh, and I’m back on speaking terms with my last ex which is the only one I don’t hate. It’s strange but nice in a way. Meh.

Wait, what??

I only posted 3 blog posts last year? Seriously?? I mean, I knew I wasn’t writing much due to the fact that I’m busy doing actual work instead of being employed by State government but damn. Actually I don’t think it has much to do with being busy or not. I don’t shoot pool anymore, I don’t do karaoke, I don’t write anymore either for myself or for others. I have political opinions, of course, but I don’t care to attempt to sway the opinions of others. If I do attempt a persuasive argument it’s simply for practice and I don’t even care to publish it.

My Arabic is coning along nicely and that’s something I do solely for me. I had a conversation with an Iraqi guy the other day completely in Arabic. I asked where he was from. He said Baghdad. I told him I study Arabic. He asked where I was from. I said I was Mexican from America. I asked if he and his friends were refugees. He responded in the affirmative. I asked when he had arrived in the US. He said he had been here for three years. It was at that point that the bus tires began spinning in the snow in an attempt to move forward. I said “Welcome to America.” He was giving me the side eye the whole time. I didn’t care. I wasn’t speaking to him for his benefit. For me it was just practice (queue Allen Iverson “practice??” quote in the background.

I’ve cooked many things for my coworkers at work including, but not limited to, Indian food, oliveburgers, burritos, chili, fettacini alfredo (sp?) among other things but the other day I had to open and I really just felt like having pancakes so I thought a non stick pan and a spatula from Meijers along with white flour, eggs, and syrup. All the other ingredients we had at work and once I made the first batch I was like hell yeah it’s on. I posted a picture of pancakes and eggs to my FB page and the Iraqi guy and Marissa were like what the hell, why he do this when we ain’t at work yet? By the time they got to work my boss Sarah and I had eaten the first batch and they had to wait until an afternoon lull before I made some more. And with that I’m about to hit ‘post’ because I’m just making myself hungry. I ain’t even gon’ edit.

The Almighty Bias

In American jurisprudence potential jurors are often asked if they can suspend bias and render a fair and impartial judgment. Most people answer yes and I believe that they believe they can. I also believe that most of them are wrong and the reason they don’t realize it is because they underestimate the strength and pervasiveness of bias in their thought processes.

Studies have shown that in keeping tat of tit for tat reciprocity (something we do without necessarily realizing we’re doing it), people are far more likely to remember when others don’t return our favors than we are to remember when we are ones who fail to do so. Simply put, if one of my friends borrows a sum of money and never returns it I am likely to remember it a year later, even if the sum is relatively small. If I borrow money and fail to return it, it is likely to drop out of my consciousness in about a month (I read the synopsis of just such a study but can’t remember where I got it from, just pretend I posted a link and you clicked on it).

The reason we remember the failures of others more than our own is because distinguishing between genuinely cooperative people and cheaters is conducive to evolutionary success. The most successful strategy is to cooperate with cooperators and to punish and/or avoid cheaters. Punishing our own shortcomings is not terribly conducive to anything so the human mind is strongly attuned to detecting wrong in others, less so in ourselves.

The point I’m driving at is that our confidence in being able to divine Truth from Falsehood is attenuated by personal bias, especially in instances where we ourselves are the object of moral scrutiny. This is why the father of the Texas man who attacked a police headquarters can honestly and indignantly ask “Where does a white man get help”. The idea of white males being a disenfranchised majority, while seemingly ridiculous to most American minorities, seems to be a self evident truth to many white people, especially to those on the lower rung of the economic ladder. Racial minorities, women, and now people in the LGBT community seemingly get all the extra protection and programs while white males are left to fend for themselves. Many, if not most, black Americans conversely take it as a self evident truth that black Americans have the odds stacked against them and have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to achieve the same results.

Whites often accuse minorities of playing the race card when injustices occur, as if the statistics demonstrating racial disparities in sentencing and in police shootings of unarmed suspects is just a bunch of bellyaching about nothing. Shut your mouth, get on your face, take this unprovoked assault, and for God’s sake don’t make this thing out to be something racial. Similarly, when apparent police brutality happens to black suspects and turns out to be the result of actual legitimate provocation on the part of the suspect, many in the black community will continue to side with the bad guy as long as he is black, the facts notwithstanding, even if they would have not chosen to side with a similar suspect if he had happened to be white. All of this seems to occur in the throes of self deception that makes both sides incapable of pulling the mote out of their own collective eye.

Inherent bias and the pack mentality is not a white thing, it is not a black thing, it is a human thing. To be certain there are many people who can defy racial lines and side with members of the other side. This is either due to the fact that these are truly enlightened individuals who can cast off the mental shackles of the herd mentality or it is because they are shameless sellouts, depending on who you talk to.

Setting aside the issue of police shootings and race, this isn’t the point of this particular diatribe. My point is simply that the human tendency to cognitive dissonance, self deception, and bias is what makes us fall prey to the type of self righteous certitude that leads to moral outrage, intransigence, intolerance, demonizing of those on the other side, and ultimately to potential violence in promoting out own personalized version of Truth. This is why the angels of our better nature (a phrase I stole from Steven Pinker) also guide toward forgiveness and mercy. These are important because sometimes it is quite possible that the wrongs that we are ultimately willing to forgive might actually not have been wrongs at all. Perhaps we were unknowingly the culprits who were in the wrong in the first place but we did not realize it because we were led astray by our tendencies to cognitive dissonance, self deception, and bias.

No Comment

I once got into a conversation with this female at work I didn’t know very well. These types of things tend to be pleasant more times than not, giving me an opportunity to learn a little about the people with whom I work but in this case the conversation took a weird turn. Let me preface this by saying as a rule I don’t like discussing religion or political viewpoints with people I know in real life unless I’m certain they can handle dissent and most of them can’t. Attack my viewpoint and I will feel free to verbally dismantle your religious and political viewpoint and hand the whole thing right back to you, in pieces of course. Not with insults or ad hominem attacks, of course, but with pure logic. I don’t like to do so with people I know in real life, however, because I’d rather avoid unpleasantness when at all possible.

Anyway, back to the conversation. This girl, upon learning that I was studying Arabic, asked “Why are you studying Arabic? Are you trying to be Muslim or something?”

Setting aside my aforementioned preference of not discussing religion, there were so many things wrong with her question I didn’t even know where to begin. I blinked a couple of times, then gave a response that had nothing to do with her original question. This was not designed to make her think I was answering her question, it was a clear indicator (from my viewpoint at least) that I wasn’t going to answer the question. It didn’t take, however, and she again asked me the same question. Again I gave her a response that was not an answer to her question.

As a rule I do not lie to people unless you are panhandling in which case I will always answer that I don’t have any money because there is no cool way to beat a hobo to death in an attempted mugging. I do, however, reserve the right to not answer intrusive questions or even questions which are phrased awkwardly, on general principle. I owe no one any explanations. I choose to speak or not as a matter of free will.

Situational Contingencies, Multiple Variations of Truth

“Is it bad if you took an online personality disorder test and you flagged for, like 5 different personality disorders?” I asked a coworker.

“What? But you don’t have a personality disorder!”

I will give you, dear reader, a full two minutes to finish laughing. Five if you know me in real life. Let me know when you’re done.

All right, at any rate my point is that human nature is such that the way we present ourselves to others is dependent upon context. The way I interact with coworkers is different from the way I am when shooting pool, I’m another way when dealing with close family members and even then the way I act with them is contingent upon my relationship with each one of them. It used to be thought there was one true self above which there are multiple masks, different faces that we portray to the world. It is now thought there are only masks, masks, and more masks which is to say there is no one true self. There are a multiplicity of truths.

Back to my coworker and her opinion of me. She thinks I’m nice and I am nice at work. I’m not faking it, I work with an assortment of pleasant people and even if I didn’t my work ethic is such that I think that one should conduct. . . Dammit, here is where the shift in language away from male centered phrasing makes this difficult. I can’t say one should always conduct himself professionally or I’ll be called misogynist. ‘Itself’ is just wrong because people are not things. . . well, most people. Strippers are things but that is neither here nor there. I won’t say ‘one should always conduct ones self’ because that is simply unwieldly and if there is one thing I don’t do it is to product awkward and or obtuse phrasing in order to cater to special interest groups, especially in regards to works that are primarily intended for my own use. I also don’t engage is pendantic epistles, stream of consciousness harangues for no purpose whatsoever, or devolve into meaningless diatribes against imaginary enemies at the expense of my original point. I shall not have it!!! Do you understand??

What was my original point. Oh yeah, like I’m saying, I’m back. Well maybe, sort of.

Wanna rethink that personality disorder thing? 😀

White People Problems

Pumpin Festival Riot

Then, Now, Us and Them (Part 2)

I think I remember where I was going with this:

Up until very recently there was not even a concept of a global ethic. Most of human history occurred in the pre-state era when people routinely made war upon their neighbors or at the very least regarded them with little or no compassion. Communities competed for resources and power and as such every group was a rival to another. Consider for a moment how wasteful in terms of lives and money it would be (albeit, hilarious) if the communities of Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos, and Meridian were in constant states of war. The expansion of the in-group to entire states and nations in the modern era has made life incalculably more tolerable and efficient with one glaring exception. It is often the case that ethnic minorities within nations are not considered by the majority population to belong to the in-group and vice-versa.

Take for example the Michael Dunn case where he, a white man, shot into a car full of black teenagers in a dispute that originated over loud music. The legal merits of his case aside, the callous manner in which he acted afterward (driving off without calling authorities, checking into a hotel, and ordering pizza), does not bespeak the actions of someone who has just taken human life. Either Michael Dunn is a classic sociopath or, more likely, he simply did not perceive the teenagers he fired at to be as fully human and deserving of rights and protections as he was. And lest you think I’m taking sides in a black/white blamefest here I will point out that in most cases of black victims suffer at the hands perpetrators of their own race I will argue that for black denizens of the ‘hood the in-group is almost nonexistent. There is something wrong with America and guns are not the issue, they are merely the mechanism in which it is manifested. The problem lies in our deeply rooted inability to perceive other groups, within our own border as well as without, as fully human and deserving of respect and expectations of basic human rights.

The most current example of this effect is America’s response to ISIS. I am not surprised that most Americans agree with areal bombardment and drone attacks against ISIS. I am surprised at the callous disregard by many Americans when it comes to the outrages committed against Yazidis, Christians, Shia, and moderate Sunnis of Iraq. That many people can see the images of modern day crucifixions and beheadings and see entire populations displaced and argue against putting boots on the ground because that is their problem to take care of says to me that humanity has not yet reached where we need to be from an ethical perspective. Under normal circumstances people are not ethically bound to help one another but there is such a thing the ethics of emergencies. Please note when you have someone as callous and indifferent as teh Mexigogue questioning your level of compassion SOMETHING IS FUCKING WRONG WITH YOU!!!! And with that, I think I’ve wrapped up today’s contribution.

Then, Now, Us and Them

When I was a child the landscape of downtown Lansing was very different than it is today. There used to be two theaters in the downtown area, the Knapps, JC Penny, and Walgreen stores were thriving businesses, and the Radisson Hotel and Lansing Centers had not yet been built. In many ways the downtown area is foreign to me and I sometimes think to myself that this isn’t the real Lansing. In my mind the city is supposed to be the way I knew it to be. The more I think along this line, however, I am forced to concede that the “real” Lansing of 1978 must have been new and foreign to the people who preceded me and furthermore for the generations after me the real Lansing is and should be the way it was in the 90s or in the way it has evolved in the new millennium. One could argue that we are all right in our own way but that would be stupid. I prefer that we are all wrong. There is no true or right way for Lansing to be, it is constantly evolving subject to new social and economic pressures and events. Our conceptual biases notwithstanding, there is no point of stasis.

I mention this as a tangential point for the subject of US race, culture, and immigration. In my lifetime the US has experienced massive influxes of Hispanic, Asian, and now Arab immigrants. Inasmuch as these three populations have, unlike European immigrants, to some degree retained some aspects of their cultures of origins there has been a backlash of popular sentiment and sometimes outright alarm with many decrying what they say is the end of America as we know it. It is curious to note, however, that when they say that the non European immigrants are resisting assimilation into the American melting pot they don’t seem to acknowledge or even realize that each immigrant group including all the European ones throughout this nation’s history have changed someone’s America. There were people opposed to the influx of Italians, Jews, Poles, Irish, and German populations at some point in time. That these groups influenced the course of American history is undeniable and what is equally true is that the true nature of America’s melting pot is not assimilation, it is an addition and alteration of whatever was in the pot. If you don’t believe me then go watch a movie from the Humphrey Bogart era and tell me if you recognize that America and I’m not even talking about the presence of minorities. White people today don’t look, act, dress, or sound like the people from that era.

Change is perpetual, inevitable, and undeniable and the only reason people resist it is the fact that xenophobia is an inherent part of the human condition. To varying degrees human beings are resistant to cultural change and are suspicious of people we regard as not belonging to our in-group. For better or for worse, however, people are now thinking of the world being an entire global community and as we regard other populations of the world as belonging to one giant in-group it would seem logical that we should resist our xenophobic impulses.

Ok I’m out of time and I forgot my point. I’m sure I must have had one. This seems like a good starting point for something and maybe I’ll finish this thought this weekend.


My daughter is away now at a four year university. I am extremely proud and happy for her and of course, as always, I want the best for her. At the same time, I can’t help feeling somewhat sad for myself at times. There are elements of her personality for which I find commonalities not present in any other of circle of family or acquaintances. Parenthetically, this is not to deprecate my relationships with any others as there are ways in which I relate to my other close family members in friends which are unique as such but I digress. Suffice it say I will miss our frequent discussions about the nuances of particular language variants and her specifically weird sense of humor.

I’ve felt a little out of sorts of late, a condition I attribute not so much to depression so much as to the fact that I feel burnt out from constant work. This is a situation that might be alleviated in the near future but until that time I hardly get a minute to myself to think, much less to blog. There are some events that occur which I might have occasion to write about, most notably the fact that the finest girl working at my job actually took a bite out of a cookie as I was holding it out in my hand offering it to her. I can say without exaggeration it was the single most unexpected and awesome thing that has ever happened to anyone in this history of anywhere and for the next two hours I could have chopped my fingers off along with the vegetables and I might not have noticed it. Add to that the fact that she studies Arabic and is going to give me her old Arabic textbooks from MSU and it appears evident (to me at least) that my current burn-out from work has been well compensated, at least in the present.

I also have been offered the opportunity to sit in at MSU Arabic language tutorial sessions which is more than I could have ever hoped for in getting hired at my current job. More on this situation to come as this situation develops. I must go at the moment.