The Voters are the Problem, not the Candidates

lesser-evilPrior to taking tests in my eighth grade social studies class, my teacher would often plead with the students not to cheat. She would say, “Your integrity is worth more than a letter grade.” I remember thinking, “Easy for you to say. If I get a bad grade in your class, it will forever stain my record. It will lower my GPA, and my parents will lecture me. My entire future hangs on the outcome of this test!”

In retrospect, I can see that my teacher was right. While, from the perspective of those in the trenches, it’s difficult to see an end to the conflict, to quote the great Elsa, “Funny how some distance makes everything seem small.” I’m glad that I chose not to sell my integrity for a better social studies grade, especially as I ended up acing the class anyway.

Every four years in the United States, it seems that there are many who, like insecure eighth graders, find themselves fearing the outcome of the presidential elections. They’re often faced with the choice of voting for someone they believe in or trying to game the system by voting for someone they don’t necessarily believe in but who has a better chance of defeating the candidate they definitely don’t believe in. Is this latter choice not a bit like cheating on a test, a compromise of integrity in order to minimize a perception of impending damage?

The purpose of tests is to to prove whether or not one has learned something, which cheating obviously circumvents. The purpose of voting is to allow for better decision-making than oligarchs and monarchs usually make. Ironically, by “voting to win” instead of voting on principle, we’re more likely to elect into office someone we don’t actually believe in than a monarch would be, who could simply appoint whoever he chooses. Thus, voting to win circumvents the purpose of democracy. It’s like cheating.

The philosopher David Hume argued that there is a way to determine absolute morality within a given society and that is to ask one’s self the question, “If everyone were to act like me, how would society be?” In the case of voting, if the majority of people were to vote for someone they believed in, it’s easy to see how society would be better. If, on the other hand, the majority of people were to effectively vote against someone they didn’t believe in, what would happen? In a two party system, if the goal is to outdo the other side, the amiable candidates would be the first to go. The ones who would last would be the ones with the most mud to sling, who are the most controversial and make the biggest bulldogs. In short, we would expect to see an ever-escalating game of partisan pingpong.

Sound familiar?

Like short-sided eighth graders who believe that one’s life hangs in the balance of a social studies test, those who subscribe to the vote-to-win mentality can’t seem to see more than four to eight years into the future. They fail to see that the bigger their win is, the bigger the retaliation will be from the other side. For example, was there really any question that the Democrats would take the power after eight years of the controversial Bush administration? And did the Democrats not choose as their candidate the biggest anti-Bush they could find? And should it be any wonder that, in retaliation four eight years of the controversial Obama administration, we’re now seeing the biggest anti-Obama the Republicans could find? If Donald Trump takes the presidency, can there be any doubt that, in four to eight years, the Democrats will raise up an anti-Trump whose victory will be virtually guaranteed?

I believe David Hume got it right. This vicious cycle is not only destructive, it’s immoral. As evidenced by the fact that the nominations from the major parties are the most disliked in history, we are already viewing the worst-case scenario, the cold, hard effects of abandoning principle for pragmatism, and the results are administration after administration of power-grabbing, government-expanding binges. So what’s left to be afraid of? Why further exacerbate the problem with the same narrow-minded mentality that got us here in the first place?

The problem is, first and foremost, in the minds of voters. Like the results of a social studies test, the results of elections will be, in the long run, much less significant than the value of our integrities. Unlike a social studies test, political losses are not only inevitable, they are, at most, four to eight years away.

Though, eight years ago, the majority of American voters were vehemently for or against one or the other, even to the point of believing that God was on their side, history has proven them both to be two sides of the same coin. This is not a judgment of their personal characters or even their attempts at positive change but as assessment of the end results. From foreign policy, to domestic surveillance, to the bureau of education, to rampant spending, what unforgivable sin did President Bush commit that President Obama has not, effectively carried on or even expanded?

Of course, no one could live up to the godlike expectations we place on our presidents, and this is a good thing. Presidential power is limited for a reason, and the hopes we place in it, weighed against our lack of concern for local elections, is blown way out of proportion. I have no lack of confidence that the United States will survive either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, no matter how dubious their characters or reckless their administrations. What I don’t know, however, is whether or not this country can survive any more generations of people who, when they have every opportunity to do otherwise, consistently vote for the lesser of two evils.

To paraphrase my eighth grade geography teacher, “Your personal integrity is worth so much more than the outcome of elections.” The real problem is not the candidates, it’s us.

My Ariah Turns 8

IMG_20160525_143542946_TOPToday our little Riah-roo, my Rygor, turned eight years old. Our little bundle of joy with a head in the 90th percentile and a body in 10th percentile. My partner for countless hours of playing toys, such as the many times Lord Zaxon would send his evil robots to destroy the village, or the countless plots of the wicked cats to kidnap the princesses, or the wacky adventures of the syrup bottle and baby Jesus. Our inexhaustible sprite, our flamboyant fairy, our tireless tub of tenacity.

My little competition. She’s already won more baby pageants, science fairs, and storytelling contests than I ever have. And judging by the incessant knocks on our front door from just about every child in the neighborhood — all day, every day — there’s no denying that she’s the life of the party, the creative wonder, the impulsive genius of fun, the explosive, wide-mouthed puppet of passion.

Everyone who knows you loves you. Everyone who loves you fears you. Everyone who fears you wants to squeeze you. Here’s to eight more years of tea parties, love notes, and late-night adventures with our neighbor Totoro.

On Being Punched in the Gut

ST-TNG_TapestryStar Trek: the Next Generation, season six, episode fifteen. Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise is engaged in one of his many adventures when suddenly his mechanical heart fails, and, in shock, he falls unconscious. Then, somewhere between a dream and the great beyond, the captain finds himself in the company of the extra-dimmensional trixter, the enigmatic, all-powerful Mister Q, an old antagonist of the captain. Q asks the captain how he was able to come to such a pitiful demise, and the captain recounts the story when, as a young officer in the star fleet, he got in a brawl with some alien thugs, who stabbed him in the heart, thus requiring the use of an artificial organ. Reliving the moment, we see young Jean Luc Picard receive the terrible blow, fall to his knees, and, with the brashness of youth, laugh at his own misfortune.

How could he do that? I marveled. Could I ever be so courageous?

Though it’s a painful vision for the older Jean Luc, not only from the memory of steel piercing his flesh, but from seeing the naive, arrogant, young man he once was in contrast to the well-behaved and logical man he’d become.

Not so long ago, after taking a personality test, I discovered that I had a lot in common with the captain. In fact, according to the test, I scored one-hundred percent on “thinking” and zero on “feeling.” This revelation surprised my friends, who seemed to have the idea that a “thinker” couldn’t have possibly been responsible for some of my less that intelligent antics over the years. But to set the record straight, thinking in no way necessitates intelligent thinking.

My wife, on the other hand, scored one-hundred percent “feeling” and zero percent “thinking.” The contrast makes for some interest dynamics. Anyway, like the captain, as soon as I had this realization, I found myself reliving my past, and I was ashamed.

First grade, nineteen-ninety. I was walking home from school with my friends, when we discovered a new boy in the neighborhood. He lived with his grandma, and he was home schooled. He was different. So we did the only logical thing: we made fun of him. Drawing from our rich, first grade vocabulary, we called him a poo poo head. It was good fun. And as a one-hundred-percent thinker and zero percent feeler, it never occurred to me that we might be hurting his feelings. I just thought this was how young boys were supposed to act.

A few days later, we were passing the boy’s house again, and there he was. “Look,” I said, “it’s the poo poo head.” But to my confusion, my buddy Ryan replied, “Actually, he’s our friend now. We got to know him when you weren’t there, and he’s a cool kid.” This was very confusing. First he’s a poo poo head, now he’s our friend? I couldn’t make sense of this illogical paradox. Perhaps it was something only a “feeler” could understand.

I always knew I wanted to be a hero and a leader, like the captain, and from a tender age, I was well-trained. That is, like every other boy and girl, I spent my after school hours watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, most kids did much more than watch, they would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But I wasn’t like most kids. From the beginning, I was an original, an authentic. My friends and I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Monkeys. Hour after hour, day after day, the ninja monkeys would fight an inexhaustible supply of invisible bad guys with our inexplicable knack for martial arts. Someday, we imagined, we would fight real evil.

Jump ahead to the fourth grade, when the time had come. My buddy Luke and I were tired of dreaming our lives away, so at night, we snuck out of his parents’ house and roamed the neighborhood streets. I was wearing a black cloak, and Luke was wearing a black trench coat. We were the “Bad Guy Patrol.” As soon as we found a bad guy, we just knew that we’d be able to do defeat him with our inexplicable knack for martial arts.

We never did find any bad guys. Though at church, the next Sunday, I overhead Sister Johnson, who lived right next to Luke, talking about some suspicious characters she’d seen wearing black clothes. She said that everyone should lock their doors and that she’d contacted the police’s neighborhood watch program. I couldn’t believe the irony. We, the bad guy patrol, were mistaken for bad guys! It made no sense. Perhaps it was something only a feeler could understand.

In fifth grade, I fought my first real battle against evil as personified by the mortal enemies of all young boys: girls. The fact that girls were our enemies had always been self-evident, as intrinsic as my knowledge that the home-schooled boy was a poo poo head. So I didn’t need any motivation, let alone justification, when I led a charming army of twenty boys toward a playground full of unsuspecting girls. Many innocent girls were pushed over that day. I myself pushed over the chief girl: Jill Metcalf. I’m not certain how, exactly, I knew she was the chief girl. It must have been another one of those self-evident truths. And as I pushed her onto the chalky gravel, it never occurred to me that I might be hurting her feelings.

Then one day I got my comeuppance. You see, I was taught how to feel, and I was taught well. My family lived by a middle school, and behind the middle school was a big, glorious wilderness we affectionately called Big Rock. The reason for the name was that within the heart of Big Rock was a very big rock. Every last inch of it was covered in graffiti, for this was no man’s land, a home to delinquents, anarchists, and teenagers. Another prominent feature was the old, abandoned house. Most of it had been weathered away, long ago. Now it was the home to a scary, old hermit that ate children. So my older brother and sister told me, and, of course, they knew.

Anyway, one day my buddies and I were walking through Big Rock, hopping across the large stones in the river and having a grand time in the great, unsupervised outdoors, when we encountered a group of boys we’d never met. And just as I knew with the poo poo head and with Jill Metcalf, I knew that these boys needed to be made fun of. Again, it had never occurred to me that I was anything short of a hero, but when one is incapable of feeling, as I’ve already said, one doesn’t always think intelligently.

So I called them Snuffleupagus brains and other eloquent inventions as my buddies and I held our territory. Because, so I thought, that was what boys were supposed to do. There were plenty of bigger kids around, so I felt safe. The new boys did nothing but walk away.

But on the way back to my house, we realized that our new-found rival gang was following us … on bicycles. There was no outrunning them, so again we held our ground as we were surrounded. “You,” said the gang leader, “you’re the guy who was making fun of us.” Two of the boys seized my arms while the gang leader put on some brass knuckles. I looked to my friends for help, but they just cowered in the background.

Come on, I thought, where’s your inexplicable knack for martial arts?

Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling it either. As only a moment like this could truly reveal, I had absolutely no idea how to fight, and these guys were scary. So I did the one thing I could: I took it like a man. Locking eyes with my soon-to-be puncher, I said, without any words, “Bring it on.” And he did.

Bam! A cold, hard punch to the gut. It hurt. A lot. They say that, in my moments like these, one’s life flashes before his eyes. But the only thing flashing before my eyes was Star Trek: the Next Generation, season six, episode fifteen. I thought of the courageous captain with a knife through his heart, and do you know what I did? I laughed.
This made my puncher mad, so he hit me a second time, harder than before. And though it took me a moment to regain my wind, I, in turn, laughed harder. Now he was really mad, and exerting his full body, he drove those brass knuckles into my gut for a third and final time. The heavy blow drained the strength from my being, and for a moment I saw stars. But determined to prove myself a starship captain in the making, I drew in air, and, despite the pain, forced my wheezing diaphragm to laugh one more time.

Apparently feeling that justice had been dealt, the boys got back on their bikes and rode off. As my buddies and I walked back to my parents’ house, I limping a bit, a single thought stayed in my mind: “I deserved it.” But the story didn’t end there. We were almost to the backyard gate when we saw one of the boys riding toward us on his bicycle. We were paralyzed with fear.

He pulled right up to us. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” we replied.

“Have you guys seen my friend anywhere? The one with the blue hat?”

We shook our heads.

“All right, well, see you later.” And then he rode off. The unexpected interchange was so short, so casual, so non-confrontational, it was almost as if we were … friends. My thinking brain couldn’t make sense of it. This was one of the guys who had just assisted in my brutal beating. Guys like us and him aren’t supposed to ask each other for favors.

Then something happened within me. Maybe it was a change of heart, or maybe it had something to do with a badly bruised abdomen. But whatever it was, I felt for the guy. I realized that even very different kinds of people can be friends. Poo poo heads, girls, and even bullies like me.

From that time onward, as Captain Jean Luc Picard also realized, as great as it is to be a cold, hard thinker with a mechanical heart, a little feeling doesn’t hurt. Unless you’re feeling brass knuckles in the gut. Then it can hurt a lot.

Anyway, the captain got a second chance, and so did I. You’ll be glad to know that from my most recent personality test, I scored two-percent on feeling, a whopping two-percent increase. So when my wife needs a listening ear as she talks about her emotions in a completely non-problem-solving, purely empathetic, judgment-free environment, to some infinitesimal degree, I almost understand. As for the rest of the time, I’m more than content to be a cold, calculating captain of mixed heroics, boldly going where no feeler has gone before.

Thoughts from the 2016 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

tsfThis morning I woke up see Teresa perusing the Internet. I asked, “What are you searching for?” She replied, “I’m checking to see if Mister Money Bags has written anything about you.” Mister Money Bags is a longstanding figure in Gashlarian lore. From the early days of our rock band, through our years of puppet shows, storytelling, plays, and films, we’ve dreamed that this elusive, faceless billionaire would show up at the end of a performance, shake our hands, pull out his cigar, and say, “My friends, you have got it.” He’ll then offer us an amazing contract with a gargantuan advance, and we’ll live happily ever after as celebrated artists.

This weekend my family and I have been performing at our favorite event of the year, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. As the winner of the Hauntings Contest, last October, I was invited to tell my ghost story for the pre-show of “Shivers in the Night.” As the second place winner at the Utah’s Biggest Liar contest in April, I was invited to perform my tall tale with the other winners, including my seven-year-old daughter Ariah, who won the youth contest. Ariah also got to be the first storyteller of the entire festival, performing with national teller Kim Weitkamp. As always, the festival was refreshing and inspiring.

71504235I’ve concluded that there’s only one rational explanation of why Mister Money Bags has yet to make an appearance in my life: he doesn’t exist. I mean, surely no talent agent or wealthy patron of the arts could behold my genius without pulling out a checkbook. This is tragic, because the world needs a Mister Money Bags. So many brilliant artists are dying for recognition. So I’ve decided that the only suitable thing to do is to become Mister Money Bags myself. While I’m not yet in a position to offer checks and contracts, what I can do is give praise where praise is due. It is my hope that those who are searching the Internet to see if anyone loves them will discover their names in this post and that my comments will provide useful quotes for their marketing literature. So if, dear artist, you are reading this now, you are more than welcome to quote me. You can refer to me as an author, storyteller, playwright, composer, blogger, reviewer, disco dancer … whatever suits your needs.

And now, with no further ado, I will now praise everyone who impressed me over the last three days:

The Mountainside Jazz Orchestra

These Utah Valley college-aged jazz junkies are bursting at the seems with energy. It was my second time seeing them perform, and I hope it’s not the last. Their male vocalist does uncanny Michael Bublé, and every musician not only sounded great but was fun to watch. They hold nothing back as they rip those brass bells, swing their bodies, and jump onto their seats. During one of their uncontainable songs, I was amazed at how so many musicians got carried away with wild improvisation at the same time. I expected cacophony … chaos … but far from it, they just kept raising the roof higher, and it sounded awesome. Their closing number was a jazzed up version of Disney’s “I Wanna Be Like You.” This song will always hold a special place in my heart, as my friends and I often performed it in high school. The Mountainside Jazz Orchestra brought new life to this old classic, for which I echo the sentiment of Baloo the bear: “Man, what a beat.” Hours after the concert, I was still snapping my fingers and busting out, “Oobeedoohs!” The only thing that would have made it better would have been a scat battle a la Phil Harris and Louis Prima.

Emily Brown

While I’m on the subject of musicians, there were too many great performances at the festival to write about. Though one that really stood out to me was Emily Brown. Her website describes her style as anti-folk. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds about right. Reminding me of Regina Spektor, her simplistic and sincere music was comprised of beautiful violin, gentle guitar, vocal harmonies, and Emily’s fantastic voice. She has a phenomenal range and a delightful, vintage timbre from a time that never was. Whatever it is, it’s so sincere that I couldn’t help but love it. Her melodies, brilliant and catchy, simply flow. I definitely hope to hear more of her.

Daniel Morden

And now to the storytellers. Daniel Morden, from Wales, immediately stood out to me. While some storytellers are all about big eyes, larger than life expressions, and (frankly) the timbre of Kindergarten teachers, Daniel Morden breaks the mold with a dry and sometimes dark demeanor. His stories lead us in a refreshing departure from Little Bunny Foo Foo and into the enchanted, “Grimm” woods, where you just might be hexed by a witch or have your head chopped off by a little, green man. Morden is a master of folk tales, though he does far more than recount ancient myths; with each story, he passes on his sagacity. For his Laughing Night performance on Saturday, in his dry way, he presented himself as a Welshman, who is, therefore, virtually incapable of humor. It was one of the funniest performances I’d ever seen.

Joe Herrington

Joe Herrington, Texas cowboy, was the only storyteller who received a standing ovation during the Thursday night concert. To be honest, I wasn’t overly excited about the idea of cowboy poetry, but when he started speaking in rhyme, so naturally and earnestly, I didn’t want him to stop. Touching on themes of brotherhood, civil responsibility, and our fading all-American values, this wise cowboy preached without preaching, taught without being didactic, and inspired with a commendable humility. He was the first storyteller I’d seen that was completely free of antics and gimmicks. He was just his true, honest self, a scholar and a gentleman, and consequently, his stories were mesmerizing. It was like watching a French naturalist film after an American blockbuster. I loved it, and I made a point to sit through as many of his stories as I could. After my Friday night performance, Joe Herrington took me aside and complimented me on my timing. Aw, shucks. He also told me how impressed he was by this festival and how special the place and the people seemed. I agreed.

Geraldine Buckley

If I wrote everything I felt, I’m afraid this post would come across as long-winded and schmaltzy. For the sake of brevity, Geraldine Buckley was simply charming. What makes her unique is that, unlike other storytellers, she doesn’t lie. Not that there’s anything wrong with lying. As the current holder of the title “the Second Biggest Liar in the state of Utah,” I’m quite fond of lying. But Gerlaldine’s stories brought a unique inspiration, that stranger-than-fiction flavor of meaning and relatability. She has a flare for finding the color, drama, and fun in every-day life. Though I’m sure she could spin fabulous lies if she wanted to. She clearly has a strong theatre background and an excellent stage presence.

David Novak

While I observed that some of my favorite tellers, such as Bill Lepp and Kevin Kling, have a gift for playing off the audience with spur-of-the-moment banter and digression, sometimes this lack of firm direction can get tedious. What I liked about David Novak was that he took full control of his stories. From his world-building and word-smithing to his character voices and diction, David Novak is truly a master storyteller. His ghost story gave me at least three distinct sets of chills, and his folktales were so good that I found myself taking notes so that I could retell them to my children.

McMazing Tales

I honestly loved all of the storytellers, but because I don’t have time to write a novel this Sunday afternoon, we’ll have to leave it at that. Moving on to the other performers, my review would be incomplete without a little praise for my favorite puppeteers. As one who’s done puppetry at this very festival for seven or eight years, it’s fun to see what my fellow performers are doing, and Teresa and I find ourselves laughing with an inside appreciation. What I love about McMazing Tales is that they always push the envelope into the bigger, wilder, and crazier. On Saturday, after a hilarious routine with a quack magician and brilliant interactions with the audience, William McAllister made an appearance in a life-sized monster suit and chased Randall McNair’s character around the stage. I’d never heard children roar louder with laughter. As if this weren’t good enough, the show reached an unforeseen climax as two more puppeteers entered in life-sized dinosaur suits, taking the craziness even further. After the show, the two raptors (Will’s sisters, I believe), decided to go on a stroll through the festival and spook the passerby. And why not? Do you see why this is the best event of the year?

I guess that’s enough for now. It’s been great to see the festival grow bigger every year, and it’s been fun to get more and more involved as a storyteller myself. For those of you who think that storytelling is just something that happens between seventy-year-old librarians and kindergartners, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is humanity at its best, the purest dissemination of wisdom, humor, and good, old-fashioned fun. I think it’s tragic that, year after year, my family ends up with so many complimentary tickets (from competitions won or service rendered) that a handful of tickets inevitably go to waste. And it’s not that we don’t try to give them away. Again, people really don’t know what they’re missing.

In which I wish I were more like a two-toed sloth

MC_Drei-Finger-FaultierThe problem with days off is I become so conscious of the value and scarcity of this precious time that nothing seems optimal enough. And then, even if I invest myself in the most meaningful work I can think of, a voice in my head will tell me that I shouldn’t be working at all but should be enjoying myself (whatever that means). The workaholic parries with, “But I enjoy myself the most when I’m invested in my passions.” To which the leisure lover responds, “But … family. Isn’t it about time?” The end result: I get so invested in the debate that, before I know it, it’s 10:00pm, precious little has been done, and the next work days is only hours away. “No,” I cry. How did this happen? All I wanted was to seize the day, and in the very pursuit, the day slipped through my fingers. Then, with a heavy heart, I find myself envying the two-toed sloth. Hanging in carefree bliss, the sloth has no concept of time. The sloth has nothing to prove. The sloth just is.

The story that Steve and Teresa wrote in their late-night delirium

avatars-000033552050-2g3hqp-t500x500In the early days of our marriage, Teresa and I had a certain tradition. I being a workaholic, I would often stay up into the late hours working on a project, while Teresa, who wanted to be near me but also wanted to sleep, would lie at my feet. Sometimes I would take advantage of her late-night delirium by compelling her to write short stories with me, because the random gibberish her half-conscious mind spewed out was brilliant. Following is one such story that I just stumbled upon from 2007. Enjoy.

Where’s my crackers?” said Mr. Booshna.

They’re in your trousers,” said the dog.

I knew you were going to say something nasty like that, you dumb dog.”

I love you.”

You have my crackers.”

My name is Cleopald,” said the dog.

I don’t care what your name is. Give me back my crackers.”

Just then, the chittering chimpanzee from outer space came through the laundry shoot amid a dazzling display of sparks. He shouted with glee, “Table manners!”

Oh, excuse me,” said Mr. Booshna. Then in a very polite voice, “Mr. Dog, may I speak with you outside, please?”

The dog said, “I’m not a hot dog, I’m a dog.”

I didn’t say you were a hot dog,” said Mr. Booshna. “I just asked if you would speak with me outside.”

Oh, my apologies for the misunderstanding.”

Then the evil lamps of doom came down and zapped the dog’s tail off.

Don’t!” said the dog.

The chittering chimpanzee squealed with excitement.

Then the lamps zap the rest of the red horribleness out of Mr. Booshna’s eyes. So then the ants come and jump on Mr. Booshna’s back and pulls out his really big bazooka from nowhere, and they have a barbecue with it, and they have a big neighborhood barbecue. And then the oreos came and covered Mr. Booshna’s glasses so he couldn’t see anymore. There was an Oreo on each of his glass things.

And then the man tripped because he couldn’t see. He tripped over some spicy pork rinds.

The chittering chimpanzee went to sleep.

The dog became a horrible dog with a beard, and he laughed at his reflection in the water, and pounced on the ants. He grew wings and darted through the sky in a streak of fire. All the people were afraid, except the little boy.

There were these potatoes who winked, and then the little boy came named Rufio and asked for some pity. Instead, all he received was rocks. But they were beautiful rocks, made of toilet.

I’m really cold,” said the boy.

Here, have some…” The shrubs started to move. They didn’t like all the noise. They got up, picked up their roots and said, “I’m leaving.”

And the dog said, “Poor boy, please don’t be cold, we will warm you. This ant here has a bazooka, it will warm you. He didn’t do a very good job last time. We have room in the garden in the backyard for the boy.””

But wait,” said the boy. “I wasn’t really fired up, I’m okay.”

\”You were a singed boy,” said Mr. Booshna.

That’s okay,” said the boy.

And then the shrubs felt bad, so they came back, and the ant was so happy that he let the bazooka go again, and there were no more shrubs.

“Surprise Vacation” – Our Latest Adventure

View at the young couple being in loveThanks to everyone who’s supported us in our new business venture: Surprise Vacation. We started off with a great launch earlier this month, with almost 400 hits on our first day and several contacts from interested leads. It always takes a leap of faith to discover whether or not one’s crazy idea is going to fly, of which it’s far too early to say for this budding project. Especially while it’s in its infancy, your word-of-mouth can go miles.

Anyway, Teresa and I thought about the different ways we could approach this. (1) We could meticulously plan out every detail of travel, lodging, dining, activities, and entertainment for every customer, or (2) we could try to automate the service with tried and true packages. We decided on somewhere in-between: designing sixteen vacations based on the sixteen personality types, then customizing these packages to meet the needs of our customers. The idea of correlating locations with personalities is, of course, arbitrary, though after a fair amount of research, we think we’ve found some pretty good fits. Sight-seeing and fine dining for the cultured, carefree amusement for the fun-loving, high adventure for the courageous, and relaxation for the comfort lovers.

It’s been fun to design the quiz and the methodology for assigning vacation spots to people’s personalities. It’s pretty basic right now, and our algorithm is far from perfect, but the more who try it out, the more data we can collect, and the better the service gets. So, if you’re like us and prefer adventure over predictability, check out the link above to find out your “ideal vacation.” As always, we’ll be happy to give friends (and even acquaintances) killer deals. Just contact me.

Party on. Or better yet, vacation. You deserve it.

Because I Feel Like Bragging

Here’s an average day’s cuisine in Gashlaria:


Smoothie made of strawberries, bananas, mangoes, oranges, dates, and chia seeds
Home-made granola (fresh out of the oven) with freshly-made cashew milk


Chocolate-dipped strawberries
Spinach, tomato, and cucumber sandwich with grape seed oil and balsamic vinegar
Home-made, whole wheat fettuccine with alfredo sauce made from cashews, coconut, and garlic


Spinach Caesar salad with home-made whole wheat croûtons and a dressing made from vegan mayonnaise, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, and garlic
Tacos made with yellow corn tortillas, home-made refried red beans, and home-made salsa


Home-made ice cream made from cashews, bananas, dates, and cocoa, sprinkled with coconut

Moral Relativism Versus Faith

Andrea_di_bonaiuto,_apotesosi_di_san_tommaso_d'aquino,_03_fede“Moral Relativism (or Ethical Relativism) is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances” (

Judging by moral relativism, it is folly to believe in a moral rule such as that men should marry women and have children. If there is such a rule in a society, it’s founded on the prejudices of that society and not on any natural law. To state that men should marry anyone is to presuppose that there’s some superior value to entering into an exclusive and committed partnership over a life of solitary, self-motivated promiscuity. To state that men should specifically marry women is to presuppose that there’s some physical balance between the sexes and that diversity is superior to homogeneity. To state that couples should have children is to presuppose that it is good for humans to reproduce, which would lead to the absurd conclusion that it is better to be alive than dead.

Moral relativism is the ultimate reductio ad absdurdum (anyone else finding frequent occasion to use that phrase lately?), because it boils down all truth into binary equations of consistent or inconsistent, fair or not fair, whether or not these equations adequately represent reality. If immediate and absolute proof cannot be provided (which it never can be), the moral relativist considers it his moral prerogative to draw no conclusion and define no rules, to replace the acquisition of truth with a belief that truth cannot be found. Thus moral relativism isn’t so much a philosophy as the manifesto of the cynic, the permission for anything, the condemnation of nothing, and the justification for inaction. Even if lines are drawn, to state that something is right in one society and wrong in another society is to equate right and wrong with cultural whims, putting a fine line between moral relativism and nihilism.

If there are no absolutes, then the very concept of morality is lost in recursion. What, then, can it possibly mean for something to be immoral? Inconvenient? Problematic? Offensive? Without absolutes, what one does in the dark becomes irrelevant so long as he can destroy the evidence. The philosophy echoes the sentiment from Disney’s Alladin: “Trouble? Now way. You’re only in trouble if you get caught.” This so-called moral framework becomes the foundation and justification for ideas such as “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and “if it feels good, do it.”

More and more, it seems that moral relativism, in all of its paradox, is the rule book by which world society is reinventing itself. The virtues of forbearance, fidelity, integrity, purity, industry, and charity (to name a few) are replaced with the single virtue of tolerance. But ironically, without standards to judge against, there’s no difference between tolerance and apathy. It seems that the only way to achieve the unconditional tolerance the world demands is through widespread moral anarchy. And of course, within this “tolerant” framework, if one society goes against the grain in deeming a certain behavior immoral, the more-enlightened majority will surely pressure this wayward minority into accepting the common doctrine, as evidenced by the way that society, as a whole, has rapidly changed its moral views over the last few decades. Thus the practical implementation of moral relativism becomes very hard, indeed, to distinguish from nihilism. If it weren’t for a universal zeal for the illusive virtue of equality, the two might be indistinguishable.

And now to my justification for this being a Sunday post: where faith comes in. It seems to me that where moral relativism demands instant proof, faith trusts in intuition and discernment until proof can be attained. Where the moral relativist states, “Until I can see it with my eyes and handle it with my hands, I will not believe,” the believer states, “I have no fail-proof arguments, however, when looking at the big picture, this course of action makes the most sense to me.” By maintaining an open mind, faith, ironically, becomes the tool of the scientist, whereas the demanding of immediate proof becomes the tool of the ignorant.

When viewing the immediate and long-term effects on individuals, families, societies, and nations, there are many, many good reasons why, as a rule, men should marry women and have children, but none of these can be adequately represented by the question of fair or not fair, and so the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. By the rules of this new game, I cannot defend myself, and I cannot win. Of course, the game is rigged, though illustrating this epistemalogical quandary in the heat of debate is so difficult that it seldom happens. Occam’s Razor becomes the de facto means for settling truth in all accounts, reinforcing a consensus reality of a one-dimensional and polarized universe filled with lovers and haters.

True enlightenment does not come from judging a book by its cover. It doesn’t fit well into political slogans. It seldom comes furnished with immediate proof. Determining what’s right and wrong requires faith in a grander scheme, a deference of judgment until all evidence is obtained. It requires acute discernment from delicate criteria that cannot be easily put into words. It requires the integrity to accept the inconvenient reality that everything we do has effects, that our actions, big or small, can matter a great deal, whether or not anyone is watching. It requires the courage to reject blind permissiveness and stand for what may be unpopular or against the “rules.” It requires patience and looking at the big picture until it all comes into view.

Thus, it would seem, that true enlightenment requires faith, an idea that doesn’t fit well with moral relativism. But then, truth has never been popular.

The Abolotionists and My Intention to Get Shot

TheAbolitionistsFBThere’s something ironic about walking into a Cinemark megaplex decked with posters for superhero movies, which are playing in half of the theaters, then entering one of the few showings of a movie about an actual hero only to see four other people in the entire theater. Stilted plots, gratuitous violence, amoral antiheroes, unbelievably evil villains, and just enough sex for a PG-13 rating, America’s latest obsession with comic books on the silver screen simply isn’t for me. In fact, the last superhero movie I think I actually sat through was Spider Man 2, back in 2004 … and I wish I hadn’t. But immerse me in a story with real good guys and real bad guys, such as The Abolitionists, and I’m hooked.

The Abolitionists is a documentary that tells the story of ex CIA Agent Tim Ballard and the organization he formed, Operation Underground Railroad. Their mission is to rescue children from sex trafficking. The movie shows real operations, through which some fifty-six children were rescued during its making. It made me cry. Teresa will confirm that I don’t cry. This is a movement that needs our support.

It’s hard to imagine, but slavery is still a big problem in the world. Chances are, you’ve eaten chocolate that was, in part, brought to you by enslaved children in Ghana and the Ivory Coast (especially if you buy Nestle products). According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 20 million slaves in the world today, with the vast majority of them involving sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 80% are female and half are children. Unlike the inane frivolities we, the pampered decadents of a dying empire, fret over, human trafficking is a real problem. I mean, how can we exhaust or passion over who should be allowed in which public restrooms while millions of innocent children are being raped on a nightly basis? It’s so easy to waste our energy on what appear to be good causes but which will, in the end, return a net result of zero. Which pretty much sums up the majority of modern political activism.

Tim Ballard is inspiring because he’s found his calling in life and has dedicated himself to it. He doesn’t have time to argue about how the world needs to change; he’s too busy changing it. He’s making a real difference, not by writing blog posts but by actually fighting bad guys. And I intend to follow suit. I signed up to volunteer on their website, indicating that I’d like to join their jump team. And I fully intend to get shot. Teresa has given me the green light to do so. One couldn’t ask for a better wife.