Prevent Suicide But Don’t Miss The Point

You might not know it — I didn’t, until a couple days ago — but September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

It’s a good cause, but focusing on suicide risks missing the point.

The suicide is only the final act of the tragedy.

The greatest tragedy comes earlier, when someone reaches a point in his or her life where suicide seems like the best option.

Despair is the real enemy: the belief that life is intolerably bad and there’s no chance it can get better. That is almost never true.

Everyone, without exception, sometimes encounters suffering and sorrow. The only question is how we are going to respond. If we respond with faith and courage, we can almost always survive our sorrows.

In my family, the only suicide I know about is Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931). He was a popular American poet who toured the country performing his poetry on stage. He spent most of his life in Springfield, Illinois, where a street bears his name. He took his life because of financial problems that overwhelmed him.

I get it. I really do. Sometimes, we feel hopeless and the world seems determined to crush us as painfully as possible. That’s what ultimately killed Vachel Lindsay.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I’d ask him to tell me about his worries. Just talking with a friend or family member can help put our worries into perspective.

And I’d encourage him to think. Each person has a unique contribution to make to the world: in that sense, we are all irreplaceable. Nobody else can substitute for us.

That also applies to how we treat other people. We are made to help each other. If we aren’t there for them when we should be, they suffer because of it. Our lives aren’t just about us as individuals.

It helps to believe that the world makes sense and that life has a purpose. As the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) said:

“Even in deepest despair, faith in G-d gives us the capacity to reconcile and deal with our grief. In a world without G-d, pain and suffering would be fruitless. But with G-d at the helm, even though the pain may not subside, we can accept it as a challenge of life; it motivates us to seek answers, to explore our relationship with G-d, and to grow from the experience.”

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You Are Responsible for You

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was a poor boy from Illinois who became one of America’s greatest presidents.

He was not a perfect person. He failed often, but he never let it stop him. He kept on going.

And whether he failed or succeeded, he knew who was responsible: He was. Nobody else.

Lincoln taught himself law by reading books that he borrowed. He taught himself land surveying in the same way. He took any work he could find, no matter how humble. He was determined to make something of himself: to live a life that made a difference. And if it was going to happen, it would be up to him to make it happen.

That’s the advice that he gave in 1848 to young lawyers:

“The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that any body wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation.”

It’s true that sometimes, people will try to hinder us. But even then, what ultimately happens is still up to us.

Blaming others is a psychological crutch that we don’t need. We can’t control what other people do. We can only control what we do.

If we take responsibility for our own lives, then success is not guaranteed. Like Lincoln, we might still fail sometimes.

But if we don’t take responsibility, then failure is guaranteed. Even if we get what we want, we’ll know that we didn’t earn it. The sweet things will taste bitter in our mouths.

Taking responsibility keeps the sweet things sweet. As they should be.

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Get Happier: Read The Bee

If you’re not reading The Babylon Bee, you should be.

Along the same lines as my July 28th blog post “Normies Don’t Care About Ideology” (but funny), The Bee today published this article:

“Get A Load Of This Ignorant Moron Who Doesn’t Follow Politics And Is Also Really Happy With His Life”

Check it out. It’s sane, sensible, and funny in ways that Lori Lightfoot never could be.

If you want the poetic version, there’s Thomas Gray:

“Where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.”

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The Declaration’s Missing Word

Many recent social conflicts might have been avoided if the American Declaration of Independence had added one simple word.

The Declaration’s second paragraph states the political ideals on which it was based:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …”

When the Declaration was published, everyone in America’s British colonies knew what the text meant. The population was 90 percent British. They all shared the same culture, assumptions, and world-view. And of course, “men” meant “humans.”

But that word “equal” was too vague. It could mean a lot of things: some true, and some false. It was eventually going to cause trouble.

If we set aside what we are “supposed to believe” about equality and look at the facts, people are obviously not equal.

Some are tall, some are short; some are law-abiding, some are criminal; some are good at playing tennis, some are bad at it. Some are “people who menstruate,” and some are not.

And yet there is a sense in which human equality is true. All people who are smart enough to use language have the same basic human rights and human dignity. In that sense, they are equal. That’s what the Declaration missed: one word. It should have said:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal in that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness …”

Moral and legal equality are entirely consistent with reality. Equality in other ways is not.

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You Have Been Deceived

You have been deceived.

There’s no shame in that. You might even take it as an indirect compliment.

Fake psychics love to have scientists “test” their powers because scientists are easy to fool. Scientists work with observable facts, so they assume that they’re good at detecting fraud. They’re not good at it. They’re terrible at it.

Likewise, propagandists love honest people because they’re easy to fool. Honest people usually tell the truth and think everyone should tell the truth. So they don’t think in terms of trickery. A little misdirection here, a little exaggeration there, a couple of outright lies, and many honest people simply believe what they’re told: Iraqi WMDs, “hands up, don’t shoot,” Russian collusion, and now The Deadliest Plague Ever (Covid-19).

Kekst CNC, a market research firm, did opinion polls in six countries (UK, US, Sweden, Germany, France, and Japan) from July 10-15. In each country, the poll got answers from 1,000 adults who were supposedly representative. The results are plausible but I have not verified them personally. They are consistent with my own observations. Results for one of the questions are shown at the top of this blog post.

In every country, poll respondents wildly over-estimated how many people had Covid-19 and how many people had died from it. In the United States, the average of respondents’ answers was that nine percent of the population had died from Covid-19. That’s 30 million deaths, or one-hundred seventy-nine times the official August 2020 total of 167,000.

That’s what you get from 24/7 fear-bombing by the media and politicians using Covid-19 for partisan advantage. But if you pay attention, you can detect some of the deceptions.

A particularly egregious example came from the Kansas State Department of Health. This graph supposedly shows that wearing masks helps prevent transmission of Covid-19:

Sorry if the image is a little unclear. The original photo of the chart is “for sale,” which implies that it is copyrighted. On the site of The Topeka Capital-Journal, you can see the actual chart from the news conference here. From the chart, you would think that mask-wearing helped a lot to slow transmission of Covid-19.

But look closely: The “mask” line is plotted against the left-side axis, while the “no mask” line is plotted against the right-side axis. The left-side axis goes from zero to 25, while the right-side axis goes from zero to 14. If you plot the lines against the same axis, you get this:

Masks might help prevent the spread of Covid-19, but the chart doesn’t show it, and is clearly deceptive. Non-mask counties had fewer cases per 100,000 people than mask counties. Nobody could make that “mistake” by accident.

Don’t panic. Stop and think. Read carefully. Follow links and footnotes to see if they really say what the text suggests that they say. If you see words like “might” or “model,” beware: what you’re reading isn’t established fact, it’s spin or speculation.

You can’t go through life never trusting anyone. As a result, sometimes you’ll be deceived. But you can often avoid it. As a former president advised, “trust, but verify.”

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What You Find When You Move

Since my apartment building caught fire, I’m in the process of moving to a new place. And I’m cleaning out my dresser drawers to see what I can throw away.

But some old things are just too much fun to throw away.

It’s been said (by me, if you must know) that there are two kinds of people in the world:

  • People whose dresser drawers contain some of their favorite old mathematics homework assignments, and
  • Normal people.

Guess which kind I am.

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Powers and Abilities Far Beyond

Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.”
— Voiceover from the 1950s “Superman” television show

I’m going to tell you two stories. The first is known to be true. The second might be true.

The story that’s true

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was one of the greatest philosophers and economists of the 19th century. He is best known for his book On Liberty, which argues for a society based on individual freedom. By the time he was a teenager, he was already famous as a speaker and writer. But at age 20, he fell into a deep depression:

“All my happiness was to have been found in the continual pursuit of [a free society]. The end had ceased to charm, and how could there ever again be any interest in the means? I seemed to have nothing left to live for.”

Mill did not recover from depression until four years later, when he met and fell in love with Harriet Taylor (1807-1858). That love restored his zest for life. In the dedication of On Liberty, published after her death, Mill wrote that she was:

“… the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings — the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward … Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one-half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivalled wisdom.”

Harriet was undoubtedly a remarkable person, though historians aren’t sure that she was as remarkable as Mill thought. What is certain is that without her influence, most of Mill’s greatest works would never have been written.

The story that might be true

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was U.S. President during the War Between the States. He is best known for the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), which declared freedom for all slaves in Confederate states.

Lincoln had grown up in poverty, taught himself law, and had in 1834 been elected to the Illinois State Legislature. At the time, he lived in New Salem, Illnois. In 1835, a New Salem woman named Ann Rutledge died at age 22 of typhoid fever.

All of the foregoing is established fact. What comes next might be true.

Some evidence suggests that Rutledge and Lincoln were in love. Local merchant William Herndon said that “Lincoln’s heart was buried with her in the grave.” Eventually, Lincoln recovered from her death and went on with his life:

“But he had changed, and the change endured. Later he married, but Ann Rutledge was the only woman he ever really loved. Her memory exerted a mystic, guiding influence throughout his life.”

In 1890, Ann’s grave received a new tombstone. The inscription said:

Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
“With malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Out of me forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth.
I am Ann Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation.
Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom.

Two kinds of power

The point of those stories is that I think feminists vastly under-estimate the power of women.

It’s because they believe there’s only one kind of power: the kind that men have.

And they believe there’s only one way to exercise power: the way that men do.

It’s not true.

All of us, male or female, have a mixture of masculine and feminine traits.

But each sex has its own special kind of power. Each sex needs the other to reach its full potential.

Masculine power is direct, like swinging a hammer. It can build civilizations.

Feminine power is indirect, like the gentle caress of a breeze. It can make civilizations worth building.

Masculine power acts; feminine power inspires.

Without inspiration, there’s no action. Without action, nothing gets done. Both are needed.

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How Captain Marvel Got Mary-Sued

How did blonde Hollywood actress Brie Larson end up getting cast as Captain Marvel?

And why do so many movie fans seem to hate her?

I hold no brief for or against Ms. Larson. I don’t know her. I’ve never seen her in a movie. I’ve only seen her in a couple of video interviews. She seemed rather unpleasant, which itself is a bit strange because an actress should be able to fake being nice even if she isn’t. Other videos by movie fans harshly criticize Larson, both as an actress and as a person.

The biggest complaint seems to be that Larson’s Captain Marvel is a “Mary Sue.” She can’t improve as a person because she’s already perfect. She can’t learn anything new because she already knows everything. People make the same complaint about the character of Rey in the recent “Star Wars” movies. I don’t know if they’re right, because I haven’t seen those movies. “Star Wars” is dead to me.

Criticizing Larson’s Captain Marvel is unfair in one way, but fair in another way.

It’s unfair because in the 1941 movie serial, the original Captain Marvel was a male Mary Sue. But there was a reason: even in the story, he wasn’t an actual person. That’s the fair part of the criticism. They’re both Mary Sue characters, but at least he has an excuse.

In the story, nerdy explorer Billy Batson was trapped in an ancient tomb. He encountered a spirit named “Shazam” who gave him the power to turn into Captain Marvel to fight evil.

But who was Captain Marvel? Like the character of Mongo in “Blazing Saddles,” Captain Marvel was less a “who” than a “what.” He was the embodiment of abilities from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury: names whose first letters spell “Shazam:”

Of course, Larson didn’t write the character she plays, so she can’t be blamed for it. But she does seem to hate the kind of people who would normally go to superhero movies — i.e., boys and men. Assuming that theatres still exist when the next Marvel superhero movie comes out, that could be a problem. Hatred doesn’t sell tickets.

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The Day After the Fire

Yesterday, of course, my apartment building caught fire. When I posted a photo of the fire, there was no way for me to know how the situation would turn out.

The good news: nobody was killed or seriously injured. Most of the roof to the east of my apartment was burned away, but thanks to the firefighters — may God bless them! — the fire didn’t spread much farther than that.

My apartment was untouched by the fire, but the building’s structure was damaged so it’s  boarded up. Nobody can move back in until the building inspector declares that it’s safe.

It’s funny what you grab when you learn that the building is on fire. I grabbed my laptop, my iPad, my Chinese class notebook, a framed photo of my father and me, and a framed photo of my philosophical mentor, Prof. Blanshard. Just on instinct, those were the things that I most wanted to save in case my apartment got burned up.

Standing out in the parking lot, I got to know my neighbors a little better. Next door lives an ex-Navy IT guy. Upstairs is a nice Chinese woman, but I didn’t get to practice my Chinese with her because she’s from Hong Kong and speaks the Cantonese dialect. I’m studying Mandarin. The two dialects are written the same way but pronounced differently.

After the fire stopped, the firefighters let us go back into our apartments to get things that we’d need while we were staying elsewhere. That’s when I got my second-tier items: shirts, clean laundry, two framed degrees, a framed drawing by a lady I like, and a framed set of medals that I got in high school (yes, I know it sounds silly). I also got a toothbrush, floss, comb, bar of soap, and a towel. It’s a scary universe, and a man’s got to know where his towel is. Anyway, I wasn’t yet sure where I was going to spend the night, so a towel and soap weren’t totally crazy.

I wish I’d thought to take a second pair of pants, because it wasn’t until later that I realized how smelly and sooty my clothes had become. I can go to a laundromat without wearing a dress shirt, but not without wearing pants.

I decided to drive five miles north to my office parking lot and decide where to go from there. After I’d parked, I my cell phone revealed a 4.5-star hotel about a half-mile away. And that’s where I am now. It’s not ruinously expensive and my renter’s insurance covers it. My hotel room window has a view of sorts — mostly office buildings, apartments, and some retail stores that died from the lockdown (though their death certificates will say it was from Covid-19). On the bright side, I can get to my office in five minutes.

I drove back to the apartment complex today to take the photo shown at the top of this blog post. The area still smelled smoky. As long as I was there, I took the opportunity to do my daily “power walk” — I could call it just a “walk,” but “power walk” sounds much more impressive. From my apartment to the Jewish Community Center and back is just over two miles. It’s not a hard workout, but if you go fast enough, you at least work up a sweat.

The JCC’s fitness center is open again after shutting down for the CoronaDoom, but I enjoy the walk outdoors. Today there were other people out walking, dressed better than me because they were going to the Orthodox synagogue down the same street. I respect the daylights out of the Orthodox because their way takes incredible dedication and seriousness of mind. But I once went to one of their services and I had almost no idea of what was going on. What matters is that they’re good people and it works for them.

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Priorities, Priorities

A little Friday evening surprise

Priorities, priorities. I am fine. I am sitting in my car in the carport across from my apartment building. The roof caught on fire for reasons that are yet to be determined. The fire department got here with four firetrucks, and seems to have contained the fire.

Someone told me that the firemen had to break down my door to get into my apartment, but if that’s the only damage to my apartment, I will count myself — once again — as a very lucky guy.

P.S. The fire trucks just left, and I do indeed count myself as a very lucky guy. So I think things worked out as well as they could have.


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